Loving You More… In The Spirit of Etta James
By Ernest Barteldes
Neo-soul/funk singer Leela James could have followed an easy path on this release, which pays tribute to the work of the great Etta James (1938-2012): select a few songs, record them with old-school arrangements and send it to stores. Instead, she chose to reinvent those classic tunes with surprising results. For instance, “Damn Your Eyes” (one of my personal favorites from Etta’s 1989 comeback album Seven Year Itch) is presented here with a contemporary neo-soul feel opposed to the original recording’s bluesier feel.
The timeless “I’d Rather Go Blind” is one of the few tunes that has more of a throwback feel, which gives Leela James the opportunity to stretch her vocal chops. The arrangement is quite sparse, with smart guitar riffs from Drew Ramsey and Billy Preston-inspired keyboard licks from Shannon Sanders, who also joins James on a duet halfway through the song. She cleverly stayed away from trying to do “At Last” in the original format (as Beyoncé did for the soundtrack of Cadillac Records and later at President Obama’s inauguration ball), doing it instead as a duet with Sanders. The keyboard-and-guitar arrangement feels more like a doo-wop meets neo-soul track that is both contemporary and retro.
Also worth checking out is “I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby,” a tune originally recorded by Johnny “Guitar” Watson in 1976 and covered by Etta James on 1998’s Life, Love and The Blues. While the two previous versions were done as straight blues songs, here Leela James goes more into a James Brown soul-ballad groove with the sound of vinyl scratches in the beginning – a clear send-up to a long-gone era that will never be forgotten. (Shanachie)
@Download these: “I’d Rather Go Blind;” “Damn Your Eyes;” “I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby”
Go behind the scenes: Recording Loving You More… In The Spirit of Etta James