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4 1/2 stars. A wonderful, varied soul record
on June 11, 2005
More soul than blues, Etta James' "Tell Mama" originally came out in 1968 as a twelve-track LP. And here it is in its remastered 2001 incarnation, bolstered by no fewer than ten bonus tracks which earns the reissue the subtitle "The Complete Muscle Shoals Sessions".
The sound is terrific, clear and realistic, as is the production by Rick Hall. And those who feel that Etta James' Chess recordings featured too many violins and not enough power need to pick up "Tell Mama" right away!
The original album was top-notch in its own right, featuring the all-time classic soul ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind", excellent covers of Ed Townsend's "I'm Gonna Take What He's Got", Otis Redding's "Security" and Jimmy Hughes' "Don't Lose Your Good Thing", and a couple of driving up-tempo numbers, most notably Don Covay's "Watch Dog" and the magnificent title track.
Etta James never sounded better than during these four 1967-1968 sessions, and the various musicians never set a foot (or a finger) wrong.
There really isn't a single weak track among the twelve songs originally issued. Even practically unknown songs like the swaggering soul stomper "My Mother In Law" and the slow "It Hurts Me So Much", which have never been covered by anyone and don't appear on any of Etta James' compilation albums, are highly enjoyable, and Etta's rendition of "Just A Little Bit" (AKA "I Just Want A Little Bit") is a supremely funky slice of soul-blues.
And the bonus tracks aren't rejects by any means. They include "Almost Persuaded", "Misty", the rocking "You Took It", a very good interpretation of Sonny Bono's "I Got You Babe", and two soulful takes on "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man", a song which has been interpreted by everybody from Aretha Franklin to the Flying Burrito Brothers.
I'm no big Etta James fan, actually, but this album is something special. I completely fell for it the first time I put it on, and to me "Tell Mama" is the best record Etta James has ever made, one of the finest, most cohesive soul and R&B records of the late 60s.
You really ought to give it a listen.