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Blues - Released January 1, 1999 | Geffen*

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography

Blues - Released January 1, 1961 | Argo


R&B/Soul - Released October 9, 1998 | Private Music


R&B/Soul - Released March 7, 2005 | RCA Victor

After her tough blues and R&B records in the early years of the 21st century -- 2003's Let's Roll and 2004's Blues to the Bone -- Etta James throws a quiet storm changeup. All the Way's 11 tracks are pop songs -- indeed, a few are standards -- written between the 1930s and the 1990s. James song choices are curious. The Great American Songbook tunes include the title track (written by Samuel Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen), Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's "Somewhere" from West Side Story, and even Bob Telson's "Calling You" from the score to the 1987 film Baghdad Cafe -- it's been recorded by everyone from Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion to Jeff Buckley and Gal Costa. Unfortunately, nothing gets added in the offering; these are decent if not remarkable renditions. Beginning with track two, James offers her own bead on what a "standard" is with her excellent rendering of Bobby Womack's "Stop on By," (as read through the Boz Scaggs fakebook). James acted as executive producer on this set, which was actually produced by her sons Sametto and Donto Metto James (the rhythm section here), as well as guitarist Joshua Skair. It's overly polished, and that's just the beginning of the problems to be found on the album. The crystalline, laid-back beat, shimmering layered keyboards, and light funky guitar are the hallmarks of a modern adult contemporary soul style that is also employed on a nearly seven-minute cover of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's laid-back soul-blues classic "Strung Out." The really curious moments here are her funk-lite take of Mick Hucknall's (Simply Red) "Holding Back the Years," and a rather boring cover of John Lennon's "Imagine"; they appear back to back here. The other odd sequencing is the way James juxtaposes R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," Prince's "Purple Rain," and Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin On." (co-written with Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson). This quartet of tunes makes profound sense, though, as they are all tracks by some of the great African-American song composers in history. The problem lies in the interpretation. Kelly's true, positive-thinking anthem becomes a sensitive ballad in James' treatment of it, removing its life and making it a syrupy sun poem. Likewise, "What's Goin' On" is nearly too polished, and feels more like a meditation on the past than a song interpreted to reflect the urgency of the day -- which it most certainly does. The lavish flamenco intro to the Brown tune is a bit off-putting in terms of its slickness, but the smoky, militantly female reading redeems it and makes it one of the album's best tunes. Which leaves the Prince cover: with its compressed acoustic guitar and Sklair's electric fills, dovetailed by a Rhodes piano, James reinterprets this as a mature soul workout. She adds depth, dimension, and underscores how timeless a tune it is by adding more tough-love R&B to its gospel flair. It should have been chosen to close the disc. Despite her best intentions and the authority of her voice, All the Way is far from perfect. Compared to her last two outings, it simply pales. The ambition of the concept does not yield the hoped-for results in the packaging. ~ Thom Jurek

R&B/Soul - Released June 6, 2004 | RCA Victor


R&B/Soul - Released December 20, 1999 | Private Music


R&B/Soul - Released May 19, 1998 | Private Music


Jazz - Released June 25, 2010 | Masterworks


Blues - Released January 1, 1973 | Hip-O Select


R&B/Soul - Released April 29, 1996 | Private Music

Love's Been Rough on Me is a terrific latter-day album from Etta James, capturing her at the peak of her powers. James' voice has diminished only slightly over the course of her career, and she knows how to make such warhorses as "I've Been Loving You Too Long" sound fresh. She also invests contemporary music, including John Berry's contemporary country hit "If I Had Any Pride Left at All," with real soul. The result is a record that delivers the real goods with grace and style. ~ Leo Stanley

Blues - Released December 13, 1963 | Geffen

Though the studio albums Etta James made for Chess in the 1960s usually had the blues singer surrounded by lush production and string-heavy arrangements, this live date finds her performing with only a rhythm section, organist, guitarist, and tenor saxophonist. The singer seems to respond to both the stripped-down setting and the enthusiastic audience with noticeable abandon. In fact, James the classy balladeer, a role she sometimes plays on her studio albums, is nowhere to be found on this blazing set. The only time the band slows down is on the tearjerker story-song "All I Could Do Is Cry" (though what the tune lacks in tempo it makes up for in emotional intensity). The rest of the set is straight-edged blues and R&B, including covers of some hits of the day, like "Money (That's What I Want)" and Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do" (on which James does a growling, harmonica-imitating vocal solo) steps up the blues quotient, as does the band's finale of Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You," with James' gospel-drenched pipes wailing all the while. Etta James Rocks the House indeed. ~ Rovi Staff

R&B/Soul - Released March 10, 2003 | Private Music


Blues - Released December 20, 2017 | HHO


R&B - Released September 8, 1992 | Elektra Records

A myriad of big names came together for the making of this album. Jerry Wexler produced The Right Time, and Etta James' sidemen include Steve Cropper and Lucky Peterson -- but the final product is a disappointment. It's just too slickly rendered to come close to the knockout punch of her vintage Chess material. ~ Bill Dahl

R&B/Soul - Released March 9, 1994 | Private Music

The popular Etta James usually performs raunchy single-entendre blues, so this surprisingly subtle outing is a real change of pace. She sounds quite laid-back on a set of ballads associated with Billie Holiday and utilizes a jazz rhythm section led by pianist Cedar Walton plus three horn players, including the great Red Holloway on tenor and alto. James makes no attempts at exploring uptempo material or scatting, sticking to soulful interpretations of the classic ballads. Despite the lack of variety in tempos, the music is quite satisfying. ~ Scott Yanow

R&B - Released January 1, 1976 | Geffen

Released in 1976, when Etta James wasn't ruling the charts by any means but wasn't adverse to the idea of climbing back into the Top 40, Etta Is Bettah Than Evvah! bears a boastful title and its ten funky cuts do not lack for bravado. Nevertheless, it's very difficult to agree that Etta is better than ever here. Part of the problem is that the songs are just kind of generic: good-enough uptempo dance cuts and midtempo groovers, songs that give enough space for Etta but never really escape the confines of average '70s disco-oriented R&B. James certainly sings her heart out, or at least throws her all into the pulsating wah-wah and clavinet grooves, and all the participants are immaculate professionals, always avoiding embarrassment (with the notable exception of "Jump into Love"), but the whole thing winds up as nothing more than vaguely pleasing, a '70s funk-soul record fronted by a singer who never quite seems invested in the fashion she's wearing. The ten bonus tracks added to Kent/Ace's 2013 reissue -- cobbled together from Chess LPs from 1973-1975, plus a few cuts that didn't see release until years later -- are enjoyable (including two Randy Newman covers) but don't really change the character of this fun enough but ultimately forgettable period soul. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released April 8, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Originally released on Warners Brothers to scant acclaim in 1978, this Jerry Wexler-produced masterpiece finds James in astounding voice with a batch of great material to apply her massive interpretive powers to. The band, including the cream of the late-'70s Los Angeles session hot-shots (Cornell Dupree, Jeff Porcaro, Chuck Rainey, Plas Johnson, Jim Horn), lays it down soulful and simple and the result is a modern-day R&B classic. Highlights abound throughout, but special attention must be turned to James' takes on "Only Women Bleed" and the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit." ~ Cub Koda

R&B/Soul - Released April 5, 1999 | Private Music

There's no denying that Etta James is a powerhouse, one of the finest blues singers of the 20th century. Perhaps that's what makes her latter-day records so frustrating: The talent is still apparent and abundant, but the albums themselves are unsatisfying. All the ingredients are in the right place, but something went slightly awry during the execution. After all, Heart of a Woman is a great idea for an album. James chose 11 love songs from her favorite female singers -- Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McRae -- augmenting the album with a new version of her signature song, "At Last." She has recorded several of these songs before (including Alice Cooper's "Only Women Bleed," which inexplicably became a standard for both her and McRae), but the difference with Heart of a Woman is the context. Here, they're put in a smooth jazz setting, masterminded by James, who has producer credit. No matter how well she sings the songs here -- and she still possesses an exceptionally strong voice, robust and filled with passion -- the well-scrubbed, glossy surfaces on the record keeps it from being engaging. It's not bad listening, it just never has the emotional impact James intended it to have. At times, it's hard not to wish that she worked with a producer who brought her back to the organic sound of her classic '50s and '60s sessions, but James has been pursuing this smoothed-out style for a decade now. It's clear that this is what she wants to do. She still sounds good, and that means her latter-day albums are listenable -- but they don't resonate like the best of her records. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B/Soul - Released October 25, 1994 | Private Music

Commercially, the 1970s weren't nearly as kind to Etta James as the 1950s and '60s had been. The sleekness that characterized Northern "uptown" soul and disco didn't appeal to the big-voiced belter, who stuck to her guns and continued to embrace the type of gritty, hard-hitting Southern soul and down-home blues that had earned her so devoted a following. Though absent from Black radio playlists, she had no problem attracting enthusiastic live audiences. At 41, James sounds like she's very much in her prime on this live recording from 1981. Whether tearing into an Otis Redding medley, her hit "Tell Mama" or Chicago blues staples like Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," the earthy singer clearly excels by sticking with what she does best. One of the CD's most pleasant surprises is a version of the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit," which works remarkably well in an R&B setting. ~ Alex Henderson

Blues - Released February 5, 2001 | Geffen

As the title suggests, this is the definitive edition of Etta James' Tell Mama long-player. For this single-disc release the original album is augmented with five previously unissued tracks -- documented during James' four Muscle Shoals sessions circa '67-'68. The question of why a rural Alabama town became a conduit for some of the most memorable and instantly identifiable grooves may still be up for debate. The evidence exists in droves and Tell Mama could certainly be considered exhibit A. These sessions feature the same impact that would redirect several first ladies of soul. Notable among them are Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis, Aretha Franklin's I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) and to somewhat lesser acclaim, Jackie DeShannon's Jackie. Tell Mama showcases some of the unique and admittedly darker qualities of what might best be described as R&B noir. "I'd Rather Go Blind," "Steal Away," "I'm Gonna Take What He's Got" all exemplify the essence of the blues -- making the best of a bad situation. The flipside of the sombre subject matter is the satisfying conviction in the music -- which is where the remastering becomes particularly noticeable. No longer does the brass section sound alternately muffled or harsh as it has on previous releases. Likewise, the churning Hammond B-3 organ swells with rich textures. Perhaps the most sonically evident improvements are the subtle ones, such as the supple fretwork on "Sweet Dreams," "I'd Rather Go Blind," and the jazzy percussive shuffle of "The Same Rope." ~ Lindsay Planer