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The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection: Her Best

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iTunes Review

Brassy, bluesy, and more than a little rough around the edges, Etta James laid a foundation for generations of future female singers to bare their souls through song. Her Best collects James’s pivotal early Sixties work for the Chicago-based Chess label. The compilation is particularly heavy on simmering ballads in the vein of “At Last”— a song that, even after millions of wedding ceremony appearances, still has the power to bowl over the listener. When soul music was still in its protean stages, James offered a model for the heart-wrenching slow dance with songs like “A Sunday Kind of Love,” “My Dearest Darling,” and “Trust In Me.” While this compilation might shortchange James on her ability to bring down the house with a blues shouter, it does contain a 1963 live recording of “Baby What You Want Me To Do” that has about as much spit and piss in it as any female performer was allowed to offer in that year. Like Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, James is an artist whose early career links old guard R&B to full-fledged soul music, and by the time the brilliant “Tell Mama” appeared in 1967, it was clear that James had helped to usher in a whole new era of American music.

Customer Reviews

National Treasure

Etta James is a national treasure, her voice could melt a heart of stone! And best of all I think she is a baritone! No cocktail party should ever be without at least one Etta James CD. This is a good one, get it if you don't have it.

A breathtaking, Legendary Singer

Etta James is one of the great singers in the history of American Popular music. Her Chess recordings from the early sixties are particularly legendary: her performance of "All I Could Do Was Cry" is both breathtakingly intimate and vividly expressive: it communicates pain with a plain, harrowing directness that other singers might find too revealing to attempt. Her delightful "If I Can't Have You" duet with Harvey Fuqua is another gem - it is fun to hear him try to keep up with the colossal talent with which he's singing, and Etta singing rings around him, imparting a sense to the song's story-arc that Fuqua's character is in way over his head, but can't believe his luck just the same. Her ballads are monuments of their type - Etta's well-known performance of "At Last," in spite of its lush instrumental setting, is both transcendently intimate and heartbreaking; the song of a woman who has suffered much, but finally found a rock in the storm. Listen to these songs, and then think of, say, Mariah Carey who, like James, uses melisma and other flourishes of Gospel singing, but unlike Etta she uses it to point to her own (undeniable) virtuosity, rather than in humble service to the song. If even half the R&B belters out there had Etta James' ability to express angst or well-earned joy, top-40 radio would be a wonderland.

Classic Voice!

Etta's voice is something that real singers aspire to emulate! "At Last" is her best but other great songs of hers are "Fool That I Am," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," and "I'd Rather Go Blind." She's Blues, she's Jazz, she's out of this world!


Born: January 25, 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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