Etta James

The Very Best of Etta James: The Chess Singles

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Because of her blues-based comeback in the '90s, Etta James was thought of by the general public -- if she was thought of at all -- as a blues singer, but there was a good deal more to the picture than that, as this two-disc, 35-track set makes clear. In many ways, James resembled a female Ray Charles in her unerring ability to tackle (and sometimes combine) all of the strands of American popular music, from rock & roll to R&B, blues, country, gospel, jazz, and pure pop and soul, while still maintaining a distinct feel and sound that was all her own, and she did this throughout a five-decade career that is impressive for its consistency. Among the varied tracks collected here (all from her time with Chess Records) are her signature "At Last," the soul-pop masterpieces "I'd Rather Go Blind" and "Tell Mama," saucy versions of Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On" and Willie Dixon's "Spoonful," and the girl group pop of "Two Sides," all of which show what a treasured voice was lost when she died from leukemia early in 2012.

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