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The Best of the Modern Years by Etta James

Duke Ellington’s highest compliment for someone was "beyond category," a rarefied level where "categorizations," labels, appellations, etc. mean little or nothing. Ray Charles was one such - if one wishes to trade in genres, Bro Ray recorded blues, country, R&B, rock & roll, pop standards and jazz. Etta James, although not quite as eclectic as Charles, also belongs in that class. Her career, as of this writing, has been extant for there-abouts 50 years - while artists & styles have gone into History Dustbin, she’s still going strong. The Best of the Modern Years presents what’s arguably the recordings on which her rep as the Queen of Soul. (Sorry, Aretha, but Etta was there before you, and she worked on the the soul/R&B foundation.) These songs hail from a time (1954-1954) when that crazy, unpredictable thing known as rock & roll was still in flux, still writhing & twisting like that immense space amoeba on Star Trek, about to engulf the galaxy. Ms. EJ’s Modern Years is not entirely "rock & roll" in the strict sense (but if it were strict, it wouldn’t be rock & roll, anyway), but it IS a batch of rollicking rhythm & blues that frequently rocks with brazen elan and overtones of swing jazz and jump-blues. Ms. Jones, all hepcat sass & hard-won dancehall/mean streets wisdom, could go toe-to-toe & hold her own with Bro Ray, Junior Parker, Big Joe Turner, Louis Prima, Wanda Jackson (Etta's hillbilly counterpart, and still active) and Elvis (in his prime), but she’s got a "smoother" side, too. Not exactly "tender," but she exudes glorious, won’t-take-your-B.S., mac confidence, she never resorts to that trying-to-hard big-ballsy-mama shtick. (You can hear echoes of Etta in the singing of Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner & Glady Knight.) Not only is this a set by a Great American Vocalist, it’s Saturday Night Party Music of the old-school (no samples, no drum machines - dig my man a’wailin’ sax!) highest order. GLOM THIS, you would-be hipsters of all ages!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Etta James
  • CD Title: The Best of the Modern Years
  • Genre: Blues
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Blue Note
  • Rating: Five Stars
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