Etta James

Etta Is Betta Than Evvah!

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Released in 1976, when Etta James wasn't ruling the charts by any means but wasn't adverse to the idea of climbing back into the Top 40, Etta Is Bettah Than Evvah! bears a boastful title and its ten funky cuts do not lack for bravado. Nevertheless, it's very difficult to agree that Etta is better than ever here. Part of the problem is that the songs are just kind of generic: good-enough uptempo dance cuts and midtempo groovers, songs that give enough space for Etta but never really escape the confines of average '70s disco-oriented R&B. James certainly sings her heart out, or at least throws her all into the pulsating wah-wah and clavinet grooves, and all the participants are immaculate professionals, always avoiding embarrassment (with the notable exception of "Jump into Love"), but the whole thing winds up as nothing more than vaguely pleasing, a '70s funk-soul record fronted by a singer who never quite seems invested in the fashion she's wearing. The ten bonus tracks added to Kent/Ace's 2013 reissue -- cobbled together from Chess LPs from 1973-1975, plus a few cuts that didn't see release until years later -- are enjoyable (including two Randy Newman covers) but don't really change the character of this fun enough but ultimately forgettable period soul.

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