Etta James was with Chess for over fifteen years (appearing initially on their subsidiary labels Argo and Cadet) between 1960 and 1976, adapting and rolling with the times, trying out new ideas, never selling out, and making a heap of great blues and soul records. If squeezing fifteen years of material onto just three discs seems a tall order, imagine the absurdity of trying to compile The Best Of Etta James, which is a single CD of her Chess years. This box set represents far better value and is fully recommended, with just a couple of small caveats.
Firstly, there are too many mono mixes, even from the nineteen-seventies when stereo versions were prepared as a matter of course and are available elsewhere, and secondly, there is too little detailed documentation.
Finally, whilst I have no quarrel at all with the title, The Very Best Of Etta James, the subtitle The Chess Singles is just misleading. Some A-sides are absent, seven B-sides are included (just as well, as these include All I Could Do Was Cry, I Just Want To Make Love To You and I'd Rather Go Blind) and contrarily there are several album tracks and even a couple of outtakes that weren't released at the time at all. These include her brilliant version of Do Right Woman, Do Right Man recorded at Muscle Shoals and inexplicably left in the can until 1993.
This collection would be well complemented by Miss Etta James - The Complete Kent And Modern Recordings, the period before she signed to Chess. It's worth remembering that when these days artists are expected to be at their peak after one single, singers like Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Etta James had been learning their craft for several years before becoming established, and Etta James' first single appeared in 1955.