One of the most honored singers of her generation, Etta James, who died in January of this year, was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame. She had won six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. Rolling Stone magazine has ranked her 22 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and 62 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists. And if you want to know why, all you have to do is listen to Etta James: Live at Montreux 1975-1993, the new CD release from Eagle Rock Entertainment. A voice soulful and gritty, Etta James was a woman born to sing the blues.
The album’s 11 tracks are previously unavailable live performances from four of the singer’s many appearances over her 18-year association with the festival. Some singers need to be heard in the studio, but not Etta James. This is a woman who knows how to take the stage and work the audience. Just listen to the 1975 performance of her classic, “W.O.M.A.N.” She’ll have you shaking your booty with the best of them. She is enjoying the hell out of herself; the audience is enjoying the hell out of themselves, and the CD gives you a taste of just what it was like, so you can enjoy the hell out of yourself as well.
The album begins with six tunes from 1993, including James favorites, “I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “Come to Mama.” “Beware” gives the singer an opportunity to show her sense of humor.
“A Lover Is Forever” is a soulful ballad sung with solo guitar accompaniment. It shows off the singer’s emotional intensity, the kind of intensity that infused the song most often associated with her (with all due respect to Beyonce), “At Last.” This signature song turns up as the first tune in a medley from a 1977 appearance, and while some of us might have preferred a more extended version, what she gives us is a powerful taste. The medley follows with “Trust in Me” and ends with a fabulous take on “A Sunday Kind of Love.” It is James at her best. “Respect Yourself” and “Dust My Broom” are two more highlights from the 1975 concert, while the album ends with “Sugar on the Floor” from 1989.
Etta James: Live at Montreux 1975-1993 is an album every blues lover will savor, and for James fans who want more, Eagle Rock is releasing an extended version of her Montreux performances on DVD and Blu-ray at the end of August. Besides the tracks on the CD, the video includes “Funky Good Time,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Hard to Handle,” “Why I Sing the Blues,” and “Hold On, I’m Coming,” among others.