Etta James, The Chess Box

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 05.21.12 in Reviews

The Chess Box

Etta James

When Etta James came to Chess Records in 1960, she’d already had a couple of hit singles, but the music she recorded over the next decade and a half makes up the core of her legacy: torchy, sexy rhythm and blues with elegant arrangements that counterpoint the grit and burn of her voice. James was a fixture on black radio for most of the ’60s, although her hits scarcely crossed over to a pop audience until decades later. The ’70s material surveyed on the third disc finds her reaching out to a rock and country repertoire — a trio of Randy Newman songs are exactly dark and bitter enough for her — and showing off a vocal mastery that had only deepened with time.