Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quietly, Etta

Etta James passed away early this year, and for sure, her biggest achievement is her iconic rendition of "At Last," a song that will be associated with her name for years to come. No one can bulldoze blues and soul in a song like she can. But Etta James also shows her "quiet" side, and that's what I liked most about her. One of my favorite albums of her is 2006's "All The Way," where she is mostly contemplative and sensitive, but she never skimps soul in exchange. In this album, she shows restraint (something that Aretha Franklin can sometimes learn) and the effect can even be romantic! Who would have thought?! In the title track, she is robust but with the understated arrangement, the track is softened, and is a success. This was also an album where she dipped into more contemporary material, like R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," and Prince's "Purple Rain." I think they are both successful. She lets loose in the former, giving it the urgency it needs, and on the latter, she is bluesy and rock-y and soul-y and she gives everything to it, and most importantly, it is quite different than Prince's. She is a little lost on Bob Telson's "Calling You," but then most people who cover that song (even Celine, Barbra) don't do justice to Jevetta Steele's originals. This album got some negative notices when it first came out, and cohesively I would agree that it is disjointed. Taken tracks separately, they shine, but altogether, the full experience is all over the place. I think on some tracks, there's too much energy, and perhaps people are not too happy when she gets more laid back. It seems like there are two albums in here that never should meet. Still, it's ETta James and let's give props!

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