Etta James is one of the very few soul singers who truly deserves the “icon” epithet. She began recording way back in 1954 when she scored with ‘Roll With Me Henry’ – a cheeky answer song to Hank Ballard’s smash, ‘Work With Me Annie’. The more-than-feisty soulstress (born Jamesetta Hawkins in 1938) continued to make records until relatively recently, when ill health and the legacy of an addictive life style finally caught up with her.
Through half a century of recording, most commentators would agree that her “golden age” was the time she spent at Chess in the 60s. There, protected and mentored by the Chess brothers, she was responsible for music that will always remain in the canon of classic soul. Everyone knows and reveres the big ones – ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’, ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’, ‘Pushover’, ‘Tell Mama’, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ et al. But in 1966 (a comparatively fallow year for Etta) she cut the wonderful ‘Call My Name’ LP. It’s been long neglected and has never been available on CD… till now. Here Ace/Kent resurrect the album, and – adding a dozen bonus cuts – it’s one of the best “proper” soul reissues of 2011.
The ‘Call My Name’ LP consists of nine original songs from writers like Maurice Dollinson and producer Monk Higgins along with three covers of which a version of the Impressions’ ‘It’s All Right’ is a great mix of Etta’s earthy, down home delivery and the optimistic, up town sounds of Chicago’s best session men. Of the original numbers, ‘Happiness’ is wonderful and a great summation of the sounds of Chicago in ’66.
The 12 “extra” tracks on the CD were recorded in Muscle Shoals and Memphis in 1967 and 1968 and with people like Rick Hall involved you can probably second guess the soundscape. Yes, the music’s grittier and darker and Etta sounds right at home, even on Sonny and Cher’s pop hit, ‘I Got You Babe’. Other selections include versions of ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, ‘Misty’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Mr. Pitiful’ – renamed ‘Miss Pitiful’. All these extras have been available before on different box sets and compilations but collected together like this they help flesh out the picture we have of Etta circa ‘Tell Mama’.