Tribute records are something sorely lacking in my music collection. In particular when they are by various artists. They seemed to go against the grain of creative vision as far as I was concerned. In recent years I've begun to rethink this opinion. Especially when it comes to tribute albums by one artist. Leela James was always one of those people I was interested in getting into. I liked her approach to soul and funk. On the other hand something about her music left me mildly wanting. When I heard she was making a tribute album to Etta James however,this interested me very much. I was very much interested how this talented writer/singer/producer would handle this type of rootsy rhythm and blues music. From what's here Leela was just the person to interpret Etta.
One of the major hallmarks of this album is how Leela draws not only from Etta's better known songs but ones recorded throughout her career. Also she brings fresh ideas to the music as well. That's particularly noticable on her take of "Something's Got A Hold On Me",which has that same African soul dance jump that is happily back within contemporary soul thanks to people like Beyonce. My personal favorites here are "I'm Loving You More Everyday",originally a slower R&B ballad and transformed here into a sleek late 70's style sophisticated dance/funk production. Her take on the Etta/Johnny Guitar Watson "I Want To Ta-Ta You Baby" is deep,slow and funky to the end and another favorite. "Damn Your Eyes" finds Leela integrating Prince style LINN drum patterns into a very bluesy framework for some more stripped down Minneapolis funk.
There's also "Old School Kind Of Love",probably my favorite on this album-a deep,Moog bass drenched jam of epically funky proportions. There are a lot of wonderfully done ballads here such as "It Hurts So Much","I'm Loving You More Everyday" and these spare pounding drums take presidents on the powerful "Sunday Kind Of Love". The only fairly traditional take on anything is the closing "At Last". At the same time,she aces it. Normally I'd have to air on the sceptical side when it comes to a contemporary performer reinterpreting the songs of somone...well someone who influenced people who THEMSELVES now influence people. It would seem like a bit too much watering down of something originally dripping with soul. At the same time artists like Leela James modelled their musical careers on those of people such as Etta. So at this time,with a person like Leela James it was perfect timing all around. In the end this is a great place not only for the young wanting to hear some of Etta's classics but people such as myself looking for a great introduction to Leela James' music.