ETTA JAMES: Etta Is Betta Than Evvah! (Kent)

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Ace/Kent continue their diligent curatorship of Etta James’s back catalogue with this reissue of the lady’s last Chess long player. Released in 1976 ‘Etta Is Betta Than Evvah!’ sounds like an end of tenure release; it’s a real mish-mash affair and lacks the coherence of her earlier Chess classics. The venerable old label, you see, had been bought out in 1976 by All Platinum and as a consequence the bulk of this album was recorded in New Jersey with Motown veteran Mike Terry in the producer’s chair. He had Etta record songs like Ann Peebles’ ‘Love Vibration’, King Floyd’s ‘Groove Me’, Johnny Winter’s ‘Blinded By Love’ and Rufus’ ‘Jump Into Love’… the kinds of songs that should have been meat and drink to Ms. James. But here they sound like the covers they are and in places you feel that Etta’s weary with the whole thing. Even on the track she wrote and produced herself – the funky ‘Woman (Shake Your Booty)’ you feel she’s going through the motions… indeed , the song itself was an uninspired rewrite of a tune she’d written and recorded for Modern back in 1955.

Much better are the 10 bonus tracks that were recorded around the same time. They include a great version of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Felling’ produced in Philadelphia by the great Bobby Martin and a version of ‘Lovin’ Arms’ produced by the equally great Jerry Wexler. Amongst the other bonuses are two Randy Newman songs (‘Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield’ and ‘God’s Song’) and a version of ‘St Louis Blues’ which was intended to be part of a TV film on Bessie Smith with Etta in the lead role, but it never materialised.

As with all Kent releases this one comes with full credits and commentary and – oddly, I think – an appreciation of the lady from Rudy Calvo who was Etta James’ makeup artist for many years. He even describes how he made her up for her funeral (though he does get the date wrong –a misprint, I assume)!

(BB) 3/5