Recent listening, current

Friday, April 26, 2013

93. Etta James / At Last! (1961)

In James' debut long player, the young vocalist demonstrates her versatility in a variety of related musical forms (pop, soul, rhythm and blues) while bringing her strongest suit (the blues) to make an impact in all. Raw ballads ("A Sunday Kind of Love" and "Stormy Weather") or songs approaching bubblegum if not for James' gravely vocal ("Tough Mary") are rendered as justly as the pair of Willie Dixons ("Spoonful" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You"). Her style combines different vocal techniques, vacillating between the heartbroken spoken-word to a gut-wrenching growl, or thin, girlish whisper. She is really exciting in tunes like "Trust in Me" when she careens through the whole arsenal in the span of a few seconds. It's an emotional roller coaster, a wild ride. Leonard and Phil Chess had the wherewithal to see James' crossover potential, and invited Riley Hampton to add strings to the session. This gives Ms. James an eloquent backdrop that frames her voice in stately beauty. The CD reissue includes several singles not issued on the LP, like the above "Spoonful." 

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