Etta James

Etta James

Heart of a Woman

Matriarch of the Blues

Private Music

Love Songs

MCA/Chess

A trio of releases from the divalicious Etta James deftly showcases her immense talent.

Heart of a Woman is a collection of songs personally selected by Ms. James herself and dedicated to her own role models, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McRae. The influence is obvious; her smooth vocals never overpowering the delicate stylings of “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Good Morning Heartache,” and Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.” She rounds out the CD with an unlikely cover of Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed.” The songs are soft and subtle, perfect to be played on a rainy afternoon.

Matriarch of the Blues is drenched with Ms. James’ richly soulful tones. Launching out of the gate with the rumbling “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Matriarch twangs and grooves along with a Spanish-guitar flavored “Let’s Straighten It Out” and a stripped-down, boozy cover of “Hound Dog.” “Born on the Bayou” sizzles with Ms James’ incomparable voice, while “Try a Little Tenderness” is like a warm, soft breeze on a summer evening. The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” gets a bluesy treatment that’s sweet and tart like molasses.

Love Songs is exactly that, 14 sexy and sultry tracks that make this CD the highlight of the trio. Ms James’ voice smolders and purrs through the re-mastered classics (originally recorded in the 1960s and ’70s.) The stellar “At Last” sets the mood, and stands out as the best track on Love Songs. Her sax-driven duet with Harvey Fuqua, “If I Can’t Have You,” is perfect for a grindingly-risque slow dance, or if a more romantic mood is desired, then light some candles and cuddle up with “My Dearest Darling,” “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and “A Sunday Kind of Love.”

Private Music, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036-4098, http://www.windham.com; MCA/Chess, 2220 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404

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