Thursday, March 14, 2013

116 At Last. Finally

Album: At Last
Artist: Etta James
Genre: Soul
Year: 1961


  1. Anything to Say You're Mine
  2. My Dearest Darling
  3. Trust in Me
  4. A Sunday Kind of Love
  5. Tough Mary
  6. I Just Want to Make Love to You
  7. At Last
  8. All I Could Do Was Cry
  9. Stormy Weather
  10. Girl of My Dreams

Etta James is one of the great stars of American music. Not just one of the great female stars or one of the great stars of R&B, she's one of the greats no matter how you choose to define her. At Last is her finest hour and it's a great listen for anyone who wonders why we should care about anything Etta did.

Etta had a great voice and unlike a lot of her contemporaries she could bend it to suit a range of genres. At Last features her lending her vocal talents to jazz standards, R&B songs and most notably a Willie Dixon track which is pure blues all the way. She could do it all and do it well. There's a reason that James is considered a huge influence on generations of vocalists recording since she made her debut. She could take a song and make it her own, even when she had producers who appeared eager to try and make it theirs.

At Last was an attempt by studio heads Phil and Leonard Chess to turn Etta into a pop sensation. They did this by backing her voice with strings which appears to be the standard method by which people try and make things more commercial. Throw some strings over the top of some Death Metal and it's got every chance of being a pop hit, or at least that appears to be the over-riding philosophy. Personally I'd prefer it if they stripped back the frills and just let Etta carry the song. I have enough faith in the record buying public of the day who I'm sure were capable of spotting a big talent without needing violins to point it out to them.

To my money At Last is great but the real jewel in James' catalogue is Etta James Rocks the House, a live album recorded a few years later which features James fronting a basic band of drums, bass, guitar and a lone sax. She performs some blues standards and does exactly what the title suggests. It's a much better showcase for her incredible abilities than At Last which is tepid in comparison.

Sadly the sixties weren't too good to James and future decades were progressively worse. She developed a heroin addiction and was in an out of rehab and institutions for years. She returned to performing several times but was never close to her best again and even though she lived until 2012 her death prompted a lot of people to express surprise that she'd still been alive and hadn't died years before.

Etta is great. At Last is great but Rocks the House is betta Etta.

Highlight: I just want to make love to you
Lowlight: Trust in Me

Influenced by: Muddy Waters and her producers.
Influenced: Janis

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Turns out I purchased this cd for one song. I was very disappointed with the rest of the cd. The song At Last is wonderful but one song is not worth the price of the entire cd."

-That's seems to be a fairly common complaint. Lots of people were expecting an entire album like the title song and were a bit miffed to find it wasn't.

So are you glad this arrived at last or would you have preferred it was postponed indefinitely? Let me know below?

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