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Aretha dresses diva, but sings straight soul

Aretha Franklin doesn't need to demand respect anymore. The 64-year-old pop-soul star received nothing less than utter adoration as she stepped onstage Saturday night at a packed Opera House. Still, it didn't hurt that she began her performance with her punchy soul anthem, ``Respect," wailing and berating with considerable sass, and reminding everyone just who was holding the microphone.

Dressed in a white satin evening gown topped by a voluptuously ruffled matching stole, her outfit glittering here and there with diamond-studded jewelry, Franklin looked the part of an elegant, commanding diva. But outside of enjoying glamorous accoutrements, she presented songs straight up: no frilly vocalizing, no flashy theatrics. Just a killer band and a singer as vocally passionate and limber as she is personally determined.

Franklin is fortunate, though. Her big, bold, brassy voice has weathered a half-century recording career (a 14-year-old Aretha recorded gospel songs for her father, Reverend Franklin) with little erosion of its earthy power. So there was no need for gilding. Aretha still has ``It," too, that big personality. She cracked jokes and gave a shout-out to two Boston establishments she obviously enjoys: Berklee College of Music and Legal Seafoods.

The set was split into two sections, with her band -- which included a 10-piece horn section and her son Teddy on guitar -- providing a musical interlude that included some instrumental solos (sax, flute, piano, percussion, etc.). No matter how good, with Franklin offstage, it was an interlude nevertheless.

The first portion of Franklin's performance comprised classic soul and visited her acclaimed 1960s Atlantic Records catalog, including a stunning, punchy ``Chain of Fools," which was nothing less than perfect. The second moved toward jazz and included a couple of songs from her forthcoming record, which, Franklin said, will be titled ``Aretha" and be released in February. When she warmly, passionately took over playing piano as well as singing, etching out a mournful blues, ``Lady Soul" went deep, beyond branded expectations. Right to the living, aching heart.

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