One of the best ideas that anyone at Ace has come up with in 2011 occurred when my colleague Mick Patrick proposed a series of expanded versions of several of Etta James’ Argo, Cadet and Chess albums that has hitherto eluded digitisation. It’s quite astounding how many of the albums that Etta released during her 15 years as the Chess group’s flagship female singer have not been issued on CD, especially given that the format’s now been with us for almost 30 years. But thanks to Mick and Kent, the number is gradually decreasing, with two “expanded editions” so far this year and the promise of more in 2012.
Etta’s 1970 album “Losers Weepers” is the latest to receive the treatment – and the wait has been well worth it. Recordings from this period of Etta’s five decade-long recording career have been somewhat neglected by the reissue market – but no more. This expansion of “Losers Weepers” really brings a full-on focus to some great music that more or less fell by the wayside when originally released, partly because of Etta’s personal circumstances at the time but mostly because she was regarded by many as having had her day as an R&B chart force.
Etta was in pretty bad shape when she made these recordings, but her rampant narcotic dependence did not stop her making the terrific music that you hear here. ‘Heavy Soul’ was a phrase that you heard frequently in the late 60s/early 70s and the intensity in the two-part title track completely defines the term. Etta’s sublime versions of ‘I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)’, ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘For All We Know’ are the logical continuation of her immortal collaborations with arranger Riley Hampton, at the other end of the 60s, which produced the timeless “At Last” album.
Elsewhere Etta makes a relatively obscure Bee Gees song ‘Sound Of Love’ sound like it was written by three bruthas from Birmingham, Alabama rather than three brothers from Manchester, England. Her vocal on her revival of the Falcons’ R&B classic ‘I Found A Love’ is almost as riveting as that of the song’s original singer, Wilson Pickett. A revival of one of Etta’s old Modern recordings ‘W.O.M.A.N’ almost matches the original take for sass and sexiness. Etta’s take on the Association’s pretty 1966 near-chart topper ‘Never My love’ will leave you wishing Ms James had spent lots of time working in Philly with Bobby Martin, rather than cutting just the one session…
…And these are just bonus tracks folks!
No matter how well you might think you know Etta James, this set of songs will increase and enrich your knowledge of the lady’s work no end. It’s a tragedy that Etta is not likely to ever again be able to grace a recording studio, but fortunately her catalogue is full of delights like “Losers Weepers” that will keep her name alive for many years to come.
By Tony Rounce