Ladies Sing The Blues
Carnegie Hall, June 20, 2006:
After a fantastic first set from Susan Tedeschi, the Roots Band takes the stage at 9:17 P.M. They perform a 70s Soul music arrangement that is inspiring and cohesive. The Roots Band is a tremendously powerful, talented and impressive group of musicians. Etta James graces the Carnegie Hall stage after a 21 year absence. Etta opens with “Out On The Street, Again.” This composition is from the 1974 LP, “Come A Little Closer.” The musical delivery is hot and expressive, with great dynamic control. The drums from Donto James, Etta’s son, are skillful and tenacious. Etta sings a dissonant ‘skat’ vocal passage with a biting refrain, “you gonna get off.”
The next musical selection is, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” This arrangement is painstaking and sincere. Etta executes exquisite vocal delivery with a captivating narrative. Her vocal is strong and emphatic. Her artistic communication is very tongue-and-cheek. The music builds to a mighty crescendo and very effective dynamic stop. Etta is very expressive and genuine.
“I Wanna Ta Ta You Baby” is next. This song is a Johnnie “Guitar” Watson composition. Etta starts to playfully use her tongue, so you know this is gonna be ‘bad’. The musical presentation is emotional and honest with no-holds-barred. The Roots Band is hot and very, very tight. They effortlessly execute an excellent key change. Bobby Murray takes a superior guitar solo. Etta emphatically exclaims, “I wanna thank you,” in a poignant vocal refrain.
“Dam Your Eyes,” from the 1989 LP “Seven Year Itch,” follows. The vocal delivery is slow, sultry and deliberate. The fabulous musical arrangement showcases Etta’s superior musical storytelling. There is a wonderful trombone solo from Kraig Kilby that features strong slide characteristics and succinct, well-chosen, lead melodic lines. Etta features a ‘skat’ vocal that is rich, full and very unusual. Etta toys with the audience. She is playful, coy and foxy. The music segways into the classic Latin pop tune, “Besame Mucho.” Etta repeats the vocal refrain, “love me forever and say that you’ll always be mine,” for emotional effect. This song depicts drama and intensity in its sad lament.
“A Lover Is Forever” features Etta with only acoustic and lead guitar accompaniment. Etta’s vocals are sensuous, engaging, passionate and acutely persuasive. This is a very telling story. Etta’s sincere lyrical weaving comes from deep emotional and personal experience. Her impassioned moaning and unabashed expressiveness are very genuine and deeply heartfelt.
Etta tells a funny story of being at Wal-Mart and her grandchildren being asked, “Is that your grandmother, Etta James?” Etta then goes into “At Last.” This signature song is soulful, restrained, sumptuous, and a sentimental favorite. This iconic ballad brings down the house!
The Al Green composition, “Love and Happiness,” kicks up a strong groove. The band is smokin’, as the backbeat is loud and rockin’. The horn section is featured and they are extremely together. The enthusiastic audience can’t help but clap along. “Sunday King Of Love” is measured, emphatic and sultry. Etta delivers a passionate vocal, over a difficult and challenging arrangement. The music has unique phrasing and unusual melodic transitions.
Etta closes with the Kiki Dee show-stopper, “Sugar On The Floor.” This is a tearful dedication to her mother. Etta performs a magnificent vibrato vocal. The vocal presentation is masterful on this profoundly emotional ballad. Her vocal delivery is heartfelt, sincere, passionate, powerful, determined and strong. Etta reaches deep down while looking straight up.
Etta James delivers a powerful performance tonight. The vocal is large, although her body is small. Etta’s dramatic life experience is exposed on stage in the passionate, provocative and unique way she interprets and delivers each distinctive musical number. The Roots Band delivers brilliantly once again. All the musicians are marvelous and complement Etta’s vocals incredibly. Wow!
Ladies Sing The Blues has been an extraordinary evening of music. George Wein has masterfully conceived a superior musical theme, once again.
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