Etta James / Etta James & the Roots Band

Burnin' Down the House: Live at the House of Blues

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Playing Burnin' Down the House right after you have listened to some of Etta James' early recordings is quite revealing. The veteran soul/blues singer was only 16 when, in 1954, she made her first recordings for Modern records; she was 63 when this excellent live album was recorded at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, CA, in December 2001 -- and it is obvious that vocally, she didn't lose anything along the way. Backed by a tight and rock-solid band, James demonstrates that her big, full voice lost none of its richness between 1954 and 2001. The Los Angeles native sounds as vital as ever, and she has no problem going that extra mile on gutsy performances of "Something's Got a Hold on Me," "I'd Rather Go Blind," "At Last," and other hits. For the most part, this is a soul concert; however, James makes a triumphant detour into electric urban blues on "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (one of the many Willie Dixon gems that Muddy Waters recorded for Chess in the '50s) and B.B. King's "Rock Me, Baby." The veteran singer pleasantly surprises us with some unlikely medleys; "I Just Want to Make Love to You" is successfully combined with Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," and even more intriguing is her ability to unite the standard "My Funny Valentine" with two of Al Green's '70s hits ("Love and Happiness" and "Take Me to the River"). Some longtime fans may be disappointed to learn that she doesn't perform either "Tell Mama" or "Roll with Me, Henry," aka "The Wallflower"; regardless, Burnin' Down the House is an exciting and powerful document of James at 63.

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