Etta James

The Essential Etta James

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Etta James has been showing people how it’s done for over 50 years now (her first single, “Roll with Me Henry,” was tracked in 1955 when she was still a teenager), and her passionate, nuanced singing hasn’t diminished one bit in the 21st century. Her earliest sides were blues-inflected R&B and soul numbers, but starting in the early '90s she expanded her material to include the Great American Songbook, tackling with style songs by composers like the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, and Cole Porter, and elegant versions of songs by rock artists like John Lennon and Prince, always bringing a weary, gritty grace to the table. This two-disc compilation set features some of the best sides she’s recorded in the past two decades, including gems like her jazzy take on “Cry Me a River” and a heartbreaking version of “Try a Little Tenderness.” But the heart of James' approach to business is the blues, as the wonderful set opener here, “The Blues Is My Business,” states clearly, and her renditions collected here of Willie Dixon's “Little Red Rooster” and John Lee Hooker's “Crawlin’ King Snake” are clear highlights in a collection filled to the brim with highlights. She’s not a diva -- she’s the real deal. This summation of her past 20 years as a recording artist shows just how real she still is.

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