Etta James

12 Songs of Christmas

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It's a little surprising to realize that after decades of recording, Etta James finally released her first holiday album, 12 Songs of Christmas, at the late date of 1998. Thankfully, she decided to make the record something of a special occasion. Working with arrangers Etta and Cedar Walton, producer John Snyder and a terrific lineup of musicians -- including Red Holloway, John Clayton, Billy Higgins, Cedar Walton, Josh Sklair and her son, Sametto -- James has created a terrific Christmas record, one that is firmly in her style yet contains surprises. First of all, she sings "O Holy Night" in both English and French. She also reworks "Silent Night" into a plaintive, bluesy plea. Each song on the album doesn't sound like a traditional carol, even if they're very familiar -- it all sounds like James, and it all sounds good. James fans may not feel like they need a Christmas album from her, but after hearing 12 Songs of Christmas, they'll be quite pleased indeed.

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