Personnel: Etta James (vocals); Brian Ray (guitar); Bobby Martin (saxophone, keyboards, French horn, background vocals); Keith Johnson (trumpet, keyboards); Kurtis Teel (bass); Armand Grimaldi (drums).
Producers: Etta James, Keith Johnson, Brian Ray (all tracks).
Recorded live at the Boarding House, San Francisco, California in March, 1981. Includes liner notes by David Ritz.
Commercially, the 1970s weren't nearly as kind to Etta James as the 1950s and '60s had been. The sleekness that characterized Northern "uptown" soul and disco didn't appeal to the big-voiced belter, who stuck to her guns and continued to embrace the type of gritty, hard-hitting Southern soul and down-home blues that had earned her so devoted a following. Though absent from Black radio playlists, she had no problem attracting enthusiastic live audiences. At 41, James sounds like she's very much in her prime on this live recording from 1981. Whether tearing into an Otis Redding medley, her hit "Tell Mama" or Chicago blues staples like Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," the earthy singer clearly excels by sticking with what she does best. One of the CD's most pleasant surprises is a version of the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit," which works remarkably well in an R&B setting. ~ Alex Henderson