Etta Is Betta Than Evvah!
This reissue sees the first CD release of Etta James’ final album for Chess. Her time on the label was one of tumult, her personal life – and addictions – spiralling out of control. But there was some incredible music. It’s great what time can do – this album, released in 1976, might not have meant a lot then but I’ve enjoyed it a great deal, given James’ gift for reinterpretation. It’s funny hearing songs like Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On or covers of Lovin’ Arms and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – it seems that slow-grind cool-soul feel that Etta and her band cooked up late in her career for things like the smokin’ cover of The Rolling Stones’ Miss You was in fact just the boil-over from this soulful Seventies stew. A new audience and “legend status” allowing a few fair-weather followers to sit up and take notice I suppose.
We are probably only seeing – and hearing – this because of Etta’s passing but it’s not a dud album; it’s full of great tunes and comes with a double-handful of bonus tracks from across the early 1970s, some that made it on to albums (cherry-picking) and some that didn’t. The aforementioned cover of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is a killer. And more great song selection with another perfect realisation of a shit-hot Randy Newman tune with her take on Let’s Burn Down The Corn Field. So, so good.
Etta James was bugged out, depressed, high, miserable – desperate to leave a contract – and unreliable when she made Etta Is Betta Than Evvah! Somehow, all these years later, it’s stripped of most of that baggage and sounds surprisingly fresh and vital; the band nailing it, the feel a perfect tight-but-loose.
Trust the Ace label to find a gem, one that requires a mere surface polish; one that will reward first-timers and keen fans from way back. One that is a worthy addition to your music collection.