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Playlist: The Very Best of Etta James

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Album Review

Buyer beware: this is not nearly "the very best of Etta James"; the title of this addition to Sony Legacy's Playlist series is wildly misleading. James cut her best sides for Chess; that is the critical as well as the commercial view. In the late '90s and early part of the 21st century, she made a series of recordings for the Private Music and RCA imprints, and that's where the music on this 14-track set comes from — including the version of "At Last" tacked on at the end, which is a live version from Burnin' Down the House. That is not to say that this music isn't worth hearing or isn't good; it's all quite good. One complaint is that her killer ballads album Love's Been Rough on Me is underrepresented here, but that's life. This set should be considered an adjunct to Etta James' Chess sides. If one has her true greatest hits already, this is a wonderful counterpart to fill out the portrait of the artist, but it is not what it claims to be.


Born: 25 January 1938 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Few female R&B stars enjoyed the kind of consistent acclaim Etta James received throughout a career that spanned six decades; the celebrated producer Jerry Wexler once called her "the greatest of all modern blues singers," and she recorded a number of enduring hits, including "At Last," "Tell Mama," "I'd Rather Go Blind," and "All I Could Do Was Cry." At the same time, despite possessing one of the most powerful voices in music, James only belatedly gained the attention of the mainstream audience,...
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