All the Wayby Etta James
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. Unfortunately, nothing gets added in the offering; these are decent if not remarkable renditions. Beginning with track two, James offers her own bead on what a "standard" is with her excellent rendering of Bobby Womack's "Stop on By," (as read through the Boz Scaggs fakebook). James acted as executive producer on this set, which was actually produced by her sons Sametto and Donto Metto James (the rhythm section here), as well as guitarist Joshua Skair. It's overly polished, and that's just the beginning of the problems to be found on the album. The crystalline, laid-back beat, shimmering layered keyboards, and light funky guitar are the hallmarks of a modern adult contemporary soul style that is also employed on a nearly seven-minute cover of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's laid-back soul-blues classic "Strung Out." The really curious moments here are her funk-lite take of Mick Hucknall's (Simply Red) "Holding Back the Years," and a rather boring cover of John Lennon's "Imagine"; they appear back to back here. The other odd sequencing is the way James juxtaposes R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," Prince's "Purple Rain," and Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin On." (co-written with Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson). This quartet of tunes makes profound sense, though, as they are all tracks by some of the great African-American song composers in history. The problem lies in the interpretation. Kelly's true, positive-thinking anthem becomes a sensitive ballad in James' treatment of it, removing its life and making it a syrupy sun poem. Likewise, "What's Goin' On" is nearly too polished, and feels more like a meditation on the past than a song interpreted to reflect the urgency of the day -- which it most certainly does. The lavish flamenco intro to the Brown tune is a bit off-putting in terms of its slickness, but the smoky, militantly female reading redeems it and makes it one of the album's best tunes. Which leaves the Prince cover: with its compressed acoustic guitar and Sklair's electric fills, dovetailed by a Rhodes piano, James reinterprets this as a mature soul workout. She adds depth, dimension, and underscores how timeless a tune it is by adding more tough-love R&B to its gospel flair. It should have been chosen to close the disc. Despite her best intentions and the authority of her voice, All the Way is far from perfect. Compared to her last two outings, it simply pales. The ambition of the concept does not yield the hoped-for results in the packaging.
- Release Date:
- Rca Victor
Performance CreditsEtta James Primary Artist,Background Vocals
Josh Sklair Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals,Musical Direction
Bobby Murray Electric Guitar
Ronnie Buttacavoli Trumpet,Flugelhorn
Donto Metto James Percussion,Drums,Background Vocals
Randy Williams Background Vocals
Sametto James Electric Bass,Background Vocals,Acoustic Bass
Tamara Oliver Background Vocals
Technical CreditsEtta James Executive Producer
Leonard Bernstein Composer
Stephen Sondheim Composer
Marvin Gaye Composer
John Lennon Composer
Josh Sklair Arranger,Producer,Engineer
Renaldo Benson Composer
Sammy Cahn Composer
James Van Heusen Composer
Donto Metto James Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Robert Kelly Composer
Sametto James Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Betty Jean Newsome Composer
Lithofayne Pridgon Liner Notes
Neil Moss Composer
Joshua Sklair Audio Production
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Etta is BACK!! Slimmed down sultry and definitely CLASSIC Etta James. If you need proof ....JUST LISTEN! Anyone who knows her knows " It dont get no Betta than Etta" The classics NEVER sounded better! You need proof JUST LISTEN!!
OK, everyone has an off album sometimes, but this one still offers some real gems. What we really want, though, is more Etta! This young white dude loves you and your total discography. Thanks for living real and letting it reflect in your art. You are the tops! Won't you please come out and sing?
The tracks are so vanilla, sung without the Etta James signature energy, growl, angst and passion. Listen to Time after Time if you want to hear Etta with full orchestration at her very best. Love you Etta...the producer of this was not able to capture the Etta I know.
coming from a seasoned veteran...of song...i would'nt expect anything less...Ms.James...is on point in her deliverance and expression...i love this...and im grateful that Beyonce sang her (Ms.James) signature song...to bring the veteran songtress back to the forefront...to conclude...this is top rate musicianship.....Loved It!!!!
"what's going on calling you purple rain, and stop on" were moving....she sung from her heart and soul. On the others, they could be better.....with a little push from Etta's soul....
Etta, I hope you read this! I've listened to the samples, and you've been there/done that with the Blues. Stop--and do the type of Rock you did with Chuck Berry! There's no comparison in your execution of Blues v. Rock. I'll buy anything you produce if it's like your Chuck Berry performance. You did that song better than anyone we'll ever see. Rhythm oozed from every cell of your body. Now, get busy and give us "much more of, in my opinion, your best stuff"! Yea!