Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

cover art

Etta James

Heart of a Woman

(Private Music)

Etta James has spent the last few years denying her rhythm and blues roots by experimenting with albums centered on standards and jazz classics. The results have been mixed at best. James big bluesy voice seemed constrained by the refined arrangements and delicate phrasings of songs designed for more delicate pipes. However, James’ Heart of a Woman demonstrates that with the right arrangements and material she has the ability to perform a jazz standard with the same devastating power that she demonstrated on R & B classics like “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

The best cuts on Heart of a Woman combine elements of jazz and blues to create the sense of loneliness and desperation in which James has always excelled in expressing. “Sunday Kind of Love” is an excellent demonstration of James’ increasing ability to reign in her voice, releasing its full power only at key phrasings in the song. Mike Finegan’s understated Hammond organ solos here and throughout the disc help bridge the gap between the jazz and blues genres.

“My Old Flame” combines a bossa nova arrangement with a lilting saxophone solo by Red Halloway to create the perfect backdrop for James’ weary take on the song. The rough edges around her voice only makes James seem more in tune with the woeful nature of these songs. The rest of the material on the album is equally as strong (with the exception of a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed,” a miscalculation of major proportions).

Hopefully, James won’t abandon the blues forever for these softer forays into the worlds of jazz and standards. For now, Heart of a Woman is a record that should satisfy fans of both sides of James’ musical personality.


Tagged as: etta james
Related Articles
23 Oct 2012
With the recent DVD collection Live at Montreux, we are reminded of how mesmerizing the "At Last" singer could be when taking to the stage.
25 Jan 2012
Etta James was memorialized before she died, and it illustrates a new and common plight among older artists.
23 Jan 2012
Across decades and genres, you always know Etta James when you hear her; it would be difficult to think of anyone who sang so well for so long. While we embrace the body of work she left behind after passing away on January 20, it’s hard not to imagine how much more we might have gotten from her, if she’d managed to hook up with a label that knew how to handle a peerless voice.
8 May 2011
One of the greatest female voices of all time shines on this collection of early recordings.
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

© 1999-2015 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.