Etta James

Love Songs [RCA Victor/Legacy]

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There can be no debate about Etta James' many gifts as an interpreter of blues, R&B, soul, and jazz -- and she also has a way with a country song that makes the best of them sit up and take notice. Her long and varied career has taken her all along the American music highway. This set of love songs comes almost exclusively from her later BMG-affiliated label recordings, made in mid-'90s and early 21st century -- the opening cut, however, "At Last," was originally issued in 1960 on the Chess label. Many veteran listeners who prefer James' 1950s music may have a hard time appreciating this phase in her career, and it's their loss. For those who do, however (and for those who have yet to encounter the singer properly), these 15 cuts will be a small revelation. Compiled to accent her softer jazz singing persona, Love Songs sets James in the company of jazz greats including Cedar Walton, Tony Dumas, Red Holloway, and George Bohannon on her readings of standards such as "He's Funny That Way," "My Man," "Teach Me Tonight," and "I'll Be Seeing You," among others. Elsewhere, James can be found digging into deeply soulful nuggets like Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and Brook Benton's "I'll Take Care of You." The closer is her now classically controversial version of Cole Porter's "Night and Day," where she turns the tune inside out and makes it completely her own. But the most beautiful thing here is the skeletal, deeply moving and introspective "My Funny Valentine," where she is accompanied only by a guitar and a trumpet. For the money, this comp is a solidly different taste of James and should be considered.

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