Though Californian belter Etta James is widely known as one of the greatest blues singers, famed for her '60s Chess recordings and '70s Muscle Shoals work, her story is bigger than that. She started out with the Johnny Otis band in the '50s as a hard-edged R&B singer of the kind whose records would've been called rock & roll if made by a white singer. The tireless James never stopped working, and by the '90s, she'd covered everything from jazz standards to Steppenwolf and CCR.
The R&B queen's classic collection is augmented this time around by a long-overdue digital remastering, plus a few bonus tracks, presumably for those who found the original album a little on the brief side. In addition to James's well-known hits, including "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and "Stormy Weather," there are four additional songs: "My Heart Cries," "Spoonful," "It's a Crying Shame," and "If I Can't Have You." Although one might cynically suggest that these were added to give Etta fans something to purchase besides The Essential Etta James, it's definitely true that these tracks are worth hearing. --Genevieve Williams
This is Etta James's first full-length album, recorded for Chess Records' Argo subsidiary in 1960. It taps all aspects of her then-blossoming talent. There's the crooning rock ballad "My Dearest Darling" and the elegantly symphonic "Sunday Kind of Love." Her classic, brokenhearted "All I Could Do Was Cry" follows the sweet title track and the bawdy blues stomper "I Just Want to Make Love to You." And there's a version of Harold Arlen's "Stormy Weather," which Lena Horne made famous. James's fine way with such a wide embrace of material wouldn't again be this well displayed on a single album until she was united with producer Jerry Wexler for 1977's Deep in the Night. --Ted Drozdowski
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