Throughout the year Ace imprint, Kent has done a sterling job reissuing Etta James’ classic Chess albums. 1964’s ‘Queen Of Soul’ is the latest in the series and though Aretha Franklin was soon to usurp that title there’s plenty of evidence (if indeed it was ever needed) that Ms James thoroughly deserved the designation too. Released on the Chess subsidiary, Argo, the original LP featured ten tracks recorded between 1962 and 1964 and they offered plenty of variety. Stylistically, the music varies from the stark ‘Bobby Is His Name’ and ‘I Wish Someone Would Care’ (originally recorded by Irma Thomas) to the raucous Ed Townsend song ‘Mellow Fellow’. In between there’s the swagger of ‘That Man Belongs Back Here With Me’, the tear jerking ‘Flight 101’ and the country-tinged ‘Loving You More Everyday’. Best of the bunch, though, is the jazzy reading of the standard ‘I Worry About You’ which has all the feel of Etta’s more famous ‘At Last’ about it.
To ensure value for your money, Kent have augmented the release with no less than 13 bonus tracks – a selection of songs all recorded in the same time frame as the original album. Best known items are ‘Pushover’, ‘Stop The Wedding’ and ‘Pay Back’ but equally impactful is the barrelhouse take on Don Robey’s ‘You Got Me Where You Want Me’. There’s also a couple of country songs recorded in Nashville and great version of ‘Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)’with a hugely sympathetic arrangement from Riley Hampton.
Chess execs were pleased with the sales on ‘Queen Of Soul’ but it was to be three more years before they released another album on Etta. By then, of course, Aretha had left Columbia and was in full flight; redefining the parameters of soul – but back in ’64 it’s clear from what’s on offer here that Etta James was peerless.