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Etta James
The Chess Box

Okay, hepsters, this one's a no-brainer. If you don't have this CD set from MCA/CHESS, buy it. If you love rhythm & blues or early rock-and-roll, buy it. If you're a dedicated listener of blues, jazz, vocal and/or gospel, buy it. Hell, if you have any appreciation of music, buy it. But it not just because it's a bargain with 72 cuts, including several unreleased tracks (among them a version of "Light My Fire" that completely redeems a song I thought I would never want to hear again)...buy it because it's Etta James, man!

If you don't know the work of Etta James, then this is a perfect (albeit pricey) place to start. Not only will you get the full breadth of Etta's musical prowess, but the liner notes are more instructive than any synopsis I could offer in this short space. Suffice to say, Etta James is one of the premier R&B vocalists of the '50s, '60s and '70s, perhaps one who is too easily overlooked. She has expression, range and versatility. She's Etta James, man!
 ATOMIC AUDIO

Hear Samples of
The Chess Box

At Last
Never My Love
You Got Me Under Your Skin

(Requires Windows Media)

The Collection is an overview of Etta's Chess Records recording career, which spanned 1960 to 1976. There's no doubt that Etta made great records before and after her contract with Chess, but these were fertile years. Even the most uninspired track—which are few and far between—is graced by Etta's glorious voice. The songs range from the sweet orchestrations of "Never My Love" to the grinding R&B of "You Got Me Where you Want Me." In the later years Etta adopted a Marvin Gaye-style soul, yet never lost the power of her blues. And there are plenty of those smoldering uptown blues ballads at which she excels, songs that cause the listener to melt just hearing them. The live version of "At Last," perhaps the most recognized of any of her hits, is worth the price. Whatever your reason for buying the set, it's a purchase you won't regret.

Christian Puffer



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