Etta James – 1966 – Call My Name
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It’s extremely difficult for me to pick an album other than “At Last!” by the incomparable Etta James to jump-start what will most definitely be a series of Gems Of Jams to follow. In choosing, I decided to go with one of my personal favorites of hers, an obscure record, but the album that launched a dirtier and grittier sound from Etta. The extraordinary beauty of Etta’s early ’60s work is that she was a piranha cast into a sea of orchestral arrangements.
The music was pretty, but her voice (even at 22) brought a razor-like growl to each track that nearly spliced the strings off the symphony backing her. She was also surrounded by white background singers to appeal to white record-buyers and would sing so loud; she’d bust a microphone every now and then. Released in 1967, “Call My Name” is a 12-song groove that will have you subconsciously “stank-facing” at any given moment.
A1 Happiness 2:48
A2 That’s All I Want From You 2:45
A3 Have a Little Faith in Me 2:40
A4 I’m So Glad (I Found Love in You) 3:12
A5 You Are My Sunshine 2:37
A6 It Must Be Your Love 2:52
B1 842-3089 (Call My Name) 2:57
B2 Don’t Pick Me for Your Fool 2:31
B3 I Prefer You 2:50
B4 Nobody Loves Me 2:45
B5 It’s All Right 2:37
B6 Nobody Like You 2:53
I was somewhat tentative in picking this one up. Not because of a lack of trust in Miss James bringing the goods, as she always does, but because of my slight aversion toward mid-60s soul coming from Chicago… Chi-town in the early to mid-60s had a habit of drowning its soul vocalists in ill-fitting orchestral arrangements, old-timey choirs and overtly smooth production values. For a good example: check out most of Jackie Wilson’s early to mid-60s recordings, and compare them with the stuff he delivered post-soul salvation in 1966.
Etta had been saddled with this style of supper-club soul as well, but, luckily, picking up ‘Call My Name’ turned out to be quite rewarding. Recorded mostly in 1966, this LP is a pretty solid outing virtually all the way through.
The best track, “Happiness“, combines beautiful melodies with a sturdy, heavy groove and the anthemic “842-3089 (Call My Name)” is an obvious nod towards Wilson Pickett’s massive hit “364-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.), throwing in some Southern aesthetics in the mix.
There’s a fatback bounce to “That’s All I Want From You“, with its blaring horn chart, and the incessant stomper “I’m So Glad (I Found My Love)” mixes the tambourine-flavored sweet of Motown with the bottom-heavy groove of Memphis.
“You Are My Sunshine” is not to be confused with the country standard: this is an R&B blow-out featuring a saucy sax, which perfectly alligns itself with Etta’s passionate vocal.
The downhome bluesy “Don’t Pick Me for Your Fool” is further evidence of Etta looking south (check out her full-throttled vocal delivery, juxtaposted with those brilliant three-note horn riffs), as do “I Prefer You“, and especially the album closer, “Nobody Like You“, both delicious Stax-esque, mid-tempo grooves.
A typical down and out bit of wailing and pleading follows on the menacing “Nobody Loves Me“, a superb minor-keyed soul-blues set to a loping, gritty beat. More great horn work here, as well as some blistering guitar licks.
I’m a little less enthused about the remaining three tracks, which, while never bad, hint back at the ‘overblown’ era: the fast-paced “It’s All Right“, the overtly sentimental slowie “Have Faith in Me” and the smooth “It Must Be Your Love” sound a bit out of place here.
But that still means that you have nine bona fide soul gems here, making this a must-have album for any fan of the genre. True, Etta went for broke on the follow-up, ‘Tell Mama’, but ‘Call My Name’ is a grand set-up for that legendary disc.
Etta James- 1978 – Deep in The Night
Originally released on Warners Brothers to scant acclaim in 1978, this Jerry Wexler-produced masterpiece finds James in astounding voice with a batch of great material to apply her massive interpretive powers to. The band, including the cream of the late-’70s Los Angeles session hot-shots (Cornell Dupree, Jeff Porcaro, Chuck Rainey, Plas Johnson, Jim Horn), lays it down soulful and simple and the result is a modern-day R&B classic. Highlights abound throughout, but special attention must be turned to James’ takes on “Only Women Bleed” and the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit.”