Etta James was fighting serious substance-abuse problems when this album was recorded, commuting to the sessions from a rehab center. It was a triumph simply to complete the record at all. But although James' life may have been in rough shape outside of the studio, she delivered a fairly strong set that fused forceful '70s soul arrangements with some rock (Randy Newman and John Kay both contribute compositions), jazz, and New Orleans R&B. Some of the material is routine, but there are some very strong cuts here, like a rousing "Sookie Sookie" and "Out on the Street Again", with its slightly sinister funk groove. "Feeling Uneasy", in fact, counts as one of the unsung highlights of her career, with a wrenching, near-wordless scat-moan vocal over a suitably languorous, melancholy blues-jazz arrangement. The CD reissue adds a couple of interesting bonus tracks: the 1975 single "Lovin' Arms", a good rootsy ballad, and a single edit of one of the tracks from the album, "Out on the Street Again".
Simply one of the greatest live blues albums ever captured on tape. Cut in 1963 at the New Era Club in Nashville, the set finds Etta James in stellar shape as she forcefully delivers her own "Something's Got a Hold on Me" and "Seven Day Fool" interspersed with a diet of sizzling covers ("What'd I Say," "Sweet Little Angel," "Money," "Ooh Poo Pah Doo"). The CD incarnation adds three more great titles, including an impassioned reprise of her "All I Could Do Was Cry." Guitarist David T. Walker is outstanding whenever he solos.
In many ways Etta James resembled a female Ray Charles in her unerring ability to tackle (and sometimes combine) all of the strands of American popular music, from rock & roll to R&B, blues, country, gospel, jazz, and pure pop and soul, while still maintaining a distinct feel and sound that was all her own, and she did this throughout a five-decade career that is impressive for its consistency. This 25-track set (mostly drawn from her time with Chess Records) is hardly definitive (it doesn't have classic James' tracks like "Anything to Say You're Mine," "Don't Cry Baby," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," or the girl group pop of "Two Sides (To Every Story)," for instance, or any of her late-career blues tracks), but it does do a good job of spotlighting James' range and versatility by collecting sides like her signature "At Last," the soul-pop masterpieces "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," and saucy versions of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," all of which offer ample proof that James was one of the best singers of her generation – in any style.
After her tough blues and R&B records in the early years of the 21st century – 2003's Let's Roll and 2004's Blues to the Bone – Etta James throws a quiet storm changeup. All the Way's 11 tracks are pop songs – indeed, a few are standards – written between the 1930s and the 1990s. James song choices are curious. The Great American Songbook tunes include the title track (written by Samuel Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen), Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's "Somewhere" from West Side Story, and even Bob Telson's "Calling You" from the score to the 1987 film Baghdad Cafe – it's been recorded by everyone from Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion to Jeff Buckley and Gal Costa…
This 15-track compilation focuses on the earliest sessions recorded by Etta James for Modern Records between 1955 and 1957. James was only a teenager when she first recorded for the L.A.-based label. Her youthful exuberance and powerhouse delivery still generate that initial excitement captured on these remastered versions of "The Wallflower (Roll with Me Henry)," "The Pick-Up," "W-O-M-A-N," and "Good Rockin' Daddy." This set is a great introduction to James' early raw recordings; however, it excludes a few tracks from the superior The Best of the Modern Years on Metro Blue.