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August 2004

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Etta James
Blues To The Bone

Etta James

A new CD from Etta James is always a special event to me, and Blues To The Bone (RCA) is my favourite CD of 2004 so far.

There’s a total of 12 tracks, all of them covers of good blues standards and all done in the inimitable Etta James style. The album opens with a good up-tempo version of “Got My Mojo Working” with great harmonica work by John “Juke” Logan, and sets the standard for the rest of the CD. On to a Sonny Boy Williamson track, that probably ranks among his best, “Don’t Start Me To Talking.” Logan, again, puts in some good harmonica, sufficient without being intrusive, to give it a totally different flavour to the original.

A Jimmy Reed track, “Hush Hush,” takes us along the road to “Lil’ Red Rooster” --- four minutes of blues that is as good a reason as any to buy this CD. Etta treats this Willie Dixon track to a nice moody, slow, workout --- Logan in the background haunting us with his harp, and Bobby Murray strumming a nice guitar.

By now you begin to realize that there isn’t going to be a bad track on the album, especially when Etta launches in the Jimmy Rogers standard “That’s Alright” and follows up with John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake”; I can’t recall hearing this track done by a female vocalist before, but Etta makes no mistake with it and turns in a first class rendition.

The choice of music here reads like a wish-list for blues lovers everywhere, and the second half of the album is equally as good as the first --- “Dust My Broom”, followed by “The Sky Is Crying,” leading into “Smokestack Lightnin’,” a track that not many female vocalists have the guts to try, and another showcase for the Logan harmonica.

To finish up the album, Etta brings us Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me,” an old Roosevelt Sykes number “Driving Wheel” (a big favourite of mine, both the original and this version), and finally “Honey, Don’t Tear My Clothes,” written by Lightnin’ Hopkins.

If this doesn’t end up as my CD pick of 2004, it will take something very, very, special to beat it!!

--- Terry Clear

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