Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No. 116: At Last!

Band: Etta James
Album: At Last!
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the greatest female blues singers, "At Last!" is James' first proper album. Containing her most recognizable songs (the title track, "A Sunday Kind Of Love") and some classic blues standards ("Spoonful" and "I Just Want To Make Love To You"), she shows what a female blues singer can do while popping up the whole thing.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The songs start to run together, but I'd generally say that this record is ranked correctly.
Best song: "A Sunday Kind Of Love" is fantastic.
Worst song: Nothing is really terrible, it's just kind of boring.
Is it awesome?: It is.

Johnny Otis discovered Etta James in San Francisco and put her on tour before her big break. This eventually led to her first record contract. Though she grew up on the West Coast, Etta James was signed to Chess Records, run out of Chicago.

Like many black singers of the time, James honed her skills in the church choir and brought the soul of singing to God to her secular music. Her holding notes, her repetition of certain phrases and her general bellow all were new to females singing blues and jazz at the time.

And it's hard to argue with the songs. "I Just Want To Make Love To You" is punctuated by horns while "Spoonful" gets the big band arrangement. "Stormy Weather" is a classic by almost anyone, but James' version remains one of the best. The title track is probably James' signature track and the sweeping atmospheric strings make it a standard at weddings.

It's great for what it is. The songs do run together, one some level, but every few tracks, up pops "Spoonful" or "At Last." This one is a classic.

"Tough Mary" has the strange backup singers that sound almost exactly like the ones that sang in Looney Tunes, so that freaks me out a little.

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