Customer Review

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars one of the great voices of the 20th century starts here, 1 Dec. 2006
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This review is from: The Complete Modern And Kent Recordings (Audio CD)
This exhaustive compilation contains Etta James's entire Modern and Kent recordings from the mid- to late 1950s, her earliest recordings made between the ages of 16 and 20. Things started auspiciously with her answer record to Hank Ballard & The Midnighters' Work With Me Annie, The Wallflower, renamed from its original, and obvious title, Roll With Me Henry in an attempt to sell more copies to white people and featuring an uncredited cameo by the man who wrote and first recorded Louie Louie, Richard Berry. This was quite a risque record for a 16 year-old girl to issue and it shot straight to the top of the US R&B charts, becoming one of the biggest selling records of 1955. A further attempt to cash in on the "Henry" craze (Hey Henry) failed to hit and, nearly a year after her debut, she unleashed Good Rockin' Daddy, one of the greatest R&B records of the 1950s, on which her scorching vocals were matched by a superbly tight and swinging band. For some unaccountable reason this was her last hit for over four years, and Modern put a lot of effort into reversing her lack of success with a variety of styles including ballads (Crazy Feeling), more answer records (W-O-M-A-N, a response to Bo Diddley's I'm A Man), novelties (Shortnin' Bread Rock), duets with Harvey Fuqua (as Betty & Dupree) and a convincing attempt to beat Little Richard at his own game (Tough Lover) as well as more typical or generic R&B. But she was unable to repeat the success of her first and third singles until she left Modern and moved on to Chess in the early 1960s.

Despite its lack of success at the time, most of the music on this compilation is highly entertaining - while it is very much of its time, and a few of the songs are perhaps unsuitable or not of sufficient quality for her talents, she always gives her (very considerable) all vocally so that even the slightest songs are a pleasure to listen to. The second disc ends with a number of previously unissued out-takes. These give the impression that choosing the correct take to issue must have been very difficult, as they reveal no fluffs or notably inferior performances; on the other hand, they differ insufficiently from the issued takes in most cases to make them really essential.

Though perhaps not the ideal place to start with Etta James - that would probably be a compilation of her Chess recordings from the 1960s - these recordings compare very favourably with those of most of her contemporaries, most of whom would really be scraping a barrel to fill two CDs from less than four years of recordings. Perhaps a single CD of this stuff would be enough for most people, but given the price, and the pleasure of listening to her voice on every single track here, maybe I should stop damning with faint praise and just say buy it, it contains some of the best singing you'll ever hear.
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