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Blues - Released November 15, 1960 | Geffen*

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
After spending a few years in limbo after scoring her first R&B hits "Dance With Me, Henry" and "Good Rocking Daddy," Etta James returned to the spotlight in 1961 with her first Chess release, At Last. James made both the R&B and pop charts with the album's title cut, "All I Could Do Was Cry," and "Trust in Me." What makes At Last a great album is not only the solid hits it contains, but also the strong variety of material throughout. James expertly handles jazz standards like "Stormy Weather" and "A Sunday Kind of Love," as well as Willie Dixon's blues classic "I Just Want to Make Love to You." James demonstrates her keen facility on the title track in particular, as she easily moves from powerful blues shouting to more subtle, airy phrasing; her Ruth Brown-inspired, bad-girl growl only adds to the intensity. James would go on to even greater success with later hits like "Tell Mama," but on At Last one hears the singer at her peak in a swinging and varied program of blues, R&B, and jazz standards. © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2011 | Verve Forecast

Distinctions Le top 6 JAZZ NEWS
Apparently, Etta James' musical career ends with The Dreamer. The legendary vocalist announced a few months back that this would be her final album; she's retiring from music in order to deal with serious medical issues. Co-produced by James, Josh Sklair, and her sons Danto and Sametto, The Dreamer's 11 tracks offer an imperfect but utterly worthy portrait of the places she's been musically with a couple of selections that reveal her dictum that "every song is a blues." Her signature meld of soul, blues, rhythm & blues, rock, and country are all on display here. The production underscores her lifelong commitment to these styles and suits the material at large. Her musical accompanists include not only her co-producers, but guitarists Leo Nocentelli and Big Terry de Rouen, saxophonist Jimmy Z., trombonist Kraig Kilby, and trumpeter Lee Thornburg. Ms. James' choice of material is rigorous even if two of its selections are questionable: the cover of Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" doesn't lend itself well to the choogling boogie arrangement here; and the funkified reading of contemporary country stars Little Big Town's "Boondocks" sounds like she tried too hard to make it fit. These cuts aside, the rest of the material is vintage; it reflects the work of Ms. James' influences and contemporaries. Her readings of Otis Redding's "Cigarettes & Coffee" and "Champagne & Wine," Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Dreamer," Bob Montgomery's country-pop standard "Misty Blue," Ray Charles' "In the Evening," Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "That's the Chance You Take" and "Too Tired," and Little Milton's "Let Me Down Easy" all contain within them not only their original traces, but the musical experience necessary to bring their subtler, deeper meanings to the fore. She re-creates these songs not as mere touchstones or mementos from a career, but as signposts to the living, breathing tradition that bears the signature and considerable influence of her life upon them. The Dreamer is a fitting -- if not perfect -- bookend to one of American popular music's most iconic lives. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 1961 | Argo

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Soul - Released June 25, 2021 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd

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Blues - Released April 18, 1968 | Geffen

Leonard Chess dispatched Etta James to Muscle Shoals in 1967, and the move paid off with one of her best and most soul-searing Cadet albums. Produced by Rick Hall, the resultant album boasted a relentlessly driving title cut, the moving soul ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind," and sizzling covers of Otis Redding's "Security" and Jimmy Hughes' "Don't Lose Your Good Thing," and a pair of fine Don Covay copyrights. The skin-tight session aces at Fame Studios really did themselves proud behind Miss Peaches. © Bill Dahl /TiVo
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Blues - Released June 8, 1993 | Geffen

The Essential Etta James comprises 44 tracks summarizing the long and brilliant Chess tenure of "Miss Peaches," Etta James, opening with her 1960 smash "All I Could Do Was Cry," and encompassing her torchy, fully orchestrated ballads "At Last," "My Dearest Darling," and "Trust in Me," and continuing on through her 1962 gospel-rocker "Something's Got a Hold on Me," the Chicago soul standouts "I Prefer You" and "842-3089," and her 1967 Muscle Shoals-cut smash "Tell Mama." A few of the '70s sides that conclude the two-disc set seem like filler when compared to what preceded them, but most of the essentials are aboard. © Bill Dahl /TiVo
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Blues - Released June 27, 2000 | Geffen

Etta James is one of the towering figures of the blues, the foremost female blues vocalist of the second half of the 20th century, and the foundation of her legacy is her recordings for Chess Records in the '60s. Despite her reputation and enduring popularity, Etta didn't receive a box set retrospective between 1988 and 1990, the time when Chess was honoring such heavyweights as Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Willie Dixon with multi-disc retrospectives. They eased away from box sets during the '90s, only issuing a comprehensive double-disc Little Walter set early in the decade, but they finally returned to the sets in 2000 with a long-overdue Chess Box for Etta James. Like before, when they assembled terrific sets on Berry and Waters, they got it right. Collectors may find a favorite side missing, but the great majority of her best work for Argo, Cadet, and Chess is here. Although there are a handful of unreleased tracks, the point behind this set is to provide a thorough overview of the most pivotal years in James' career, and on that level, it succeeds tremendously. Like many career-spanning sets, it does dip slightly in quality on the last disc, but not enough to make this anything less than an essential addition to a thorough blues library, since even on the lesser material, she sounds terrific. As a matter of fact, it's rather astonishing how strong all these recordings are, from her terrific vocals to the songs themselves. It's a shame it didn't come out with the first round of Chess Boxes, but it was worth the wait. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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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 /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 1989 | Geffen

Etta James's second album isn't what you pull off the shelf when you want to hear her belt some soul. Like her debut, it found Chess presenting her as more or less a pop singer, using orchestration arranged and conducted by Riley Hampton, and mostly tackling popular standards of the '40s. If you're not a purist, this approach won't bother you in the least; James sings with gusto, proving that she could more than hold her own in this idiom as well. R&B isn't entirely neglected either, with the rousing "Seven Day Fool" (co-written by Berry Gordy, Jr.) a standout; "Don't Cry Baby" and "Fool That I Am" were R&B hits that made a mild impression on the pop charts as well. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released June 8, 2004 | RCA Victor

Etta James has worked in countless styles throughout her long career, and she is equally at home singing gospel, R&B, soul, jazz, and even rock & roll, but her roots have always been solidly planted in the blues, and she is arguably the finest living singer active in the genre. Perhaps because she doesn't sing only the blues, however, when she does, it sticks out as something special, and with Blues to the Bone she goes down to the river and dives in completely, turning out a solid album of no-frills, gutbucket performances. Her voice has deepened and coarsened over the years, making it the perfect vehicle of authenticity and authority as she tackles classics of the genre like John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake," Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom," and Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning," backed by a garage blues combo led by her sons, Donito and Sametto James. James' versions bring new dimensions to each of these hoary old chestnuts, which have generally been sung by men, and her smoke-tinged alto makes each her own, instilling them all with a wise, desperate, and confident intimacy. She gives Jimmy Reed's "Hush Hush" a solid reading, while her take on Willie Dixon's "Lil' Red Rooster" is a tension-filled, atmospheric gem. The most striking track here, however, is James' version of the Elmore James tune "The Sky Is Crying," which emerges as epic and poignant. Much of contemporary blues spins on its own excesses and on a hundred years of accumulative clichés, but when an artist like Etta James comes home to sing the blues, the world has to rejoice and take notice, because in her hands the old clichéd phrases become vital and new again. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Soul/Funk/R&B - 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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released April 8, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Records

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 /TiVo
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released June 29, 1998 | Private Music

Life, Love & the Blues is slick, funky, and thoroughly commercial. The queen of R&B does an admirable job of keeping her head above water, but this package of covers comes off more like the work of a tight lounge band than the work of a blues master. © Tim Sheridan /TiVo
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Blues - Released March 25, 1997 | Geffen

While several best-ofs from Etta James' Chess period have been available over the years -- with the two-disc, 44-track Essential Etta James at the top of the list in giving the big picture -- this 20-track collection sweats that bigger picture down to bare essentials. For those wishing to finally sample Etta's classic period at Chess without opening the wallet for box set expense, this single-disc retrospective will fill the bill quite nicely. Featuring 20 of the tracks that appear on the double-disc Essential anthology without anything literally essential left off, this scintillating little disc now officially becomes the one-stop, first-time purchase in connecting with the emotional greatness inherent in Etta's siren song. There's plenty more after this to discover, but this is absolutely where you start. © Cub Koda /TiVo
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released October 13, 1998 | Private Music

It's a little surprising to realize that after decades of recording, Etta James finally released her first holiday album, 12 Songs of Christmas, at the late date of 1998. Thankfully, she decided to make the record something of a special occasion. Working with arrangers Etta and Cedar Walton, producer John Snyder and a terrific lineup of musicians -- including Red Holloway, John Clayton, Billy Higgins, Cedar Walton, Josh Sklair and her son, Sametto -- James has created a terrific Christmas record, one that is firmly in her style yet contains surprises. First of all, she sings "O Holy Night" in both English and French. She also reworks "Silent Night" into a plaintive, bluesy plea. Each song on the album doesn't sound like a traditional carol, even if they're very familiar -- it all sounds like James, and it all sounds good. James fans may not feel like they need a Christmas album from her, but after hearing 12 Songs of Christmas, they'll be quite pleased indeed. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released April 29, 1997 | 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 /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1987 | Fantasy Records

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Jazz - Released June 8, 1993 | Masterworks

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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 /TiVo
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Pop - Released February 3, 1999 | Geffen

Like any record company worth their salt, MCA knows a good gimmick when they see it, and when the millennium came around -- well, the 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection wasn't too far behind. Supposedly, the millennium is a momentous occasion, but it's hard to feel that way when it's used as another excuse to turn out a budget-line series. But apart from the presumptuous title, 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection turns out to be a very good budget-line series. True, it's impossible for any of these brief collections to be definitive, but they're nevertheless solid samplers that don't feature a bad song in the bunch. For example, take Etta James' 20th Century volume -- it's an irresistible 11-song summary of her Chess years. There may be a couple of noteworthy songs missing, but many of her best-known songs for the label are here, including "At Last," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," "All I Could Do Was Cry," "Stop the Wedding," "Pushover," "Don't Cry Baby," "Trust in Me," "Tell Mama," "Almost Persuaded," and "I'd Rather Go Blind." Serious fans will want something more extensive, but this is an excellent introduction for neophytes and a great sampler for casual fans, considering its length and price. That doesn't erase the ridiculousness of the series title, but the silliness is excusable when the music and the collections are good. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo