Thursday, 16 June 2016

"At Last! + The Second Time Around" by ETTA JAMES (2012 Soul Jam Records 'The Definitive Remastered Edition' CD Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...At Last My Love Has Come Along..."

Soul Jam Records are a new name to me when it comes to Reissues - but on the strength of this effort - I'm going to be visiting their website a lot more to see what's coming next.

What you get here are her first two albums - "Etta James" (November 1960) and "The Second Time Around" (September 1961) - both originally on the Chess offshoot label Argo Records of the USA - with a healthy seven bonus tracks - singles put out in and around the album releases. They're both in glorious STEREO too (the singles in Mono) and sound fantastic. Here is the tough love and stormy weather...

UK released 22 October 2012 - "At Last! + The Second Time Around - The Definitive Remastered Edition" by ETTA JAMES on Soul Jam Records 600815 (Barcode 8436542011228) offers 2 LPs and 7 Bonus Tracks remastered onto 1 CD and plays out as follows (76:44 minutes):

1. Anything To Say You're Mine
2. My Greatest Darling
3. Trust In Me
4. A Sunday Kind Of Love
5. Tough Mary
6.  I Just Want To Make Love To You
7. At Last
8. All I Could Do Was Cry
9. Stormy Weather
10. Girl Of My Dreams
Tracks 1 to 10 are her debut album "At Last!" - released November 1960 in the USA on Argo Records LP 4003 (Mono) and Argo LPS 4003 (Stereo) - Stereo Mix is used. Produced by LEONARD and PHIL CHESS - the album peaked at No. 68 on the US LP charts (no UK issue).

11. Don't Cry Baby
12. Fool That I Am
13. One For My Baby
14. In My Diary
15. Seven Days Fool
16. It's Too Soon To Know
17. Dream
18. I'll Dry My Tears
19. Plum Nuts
20. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Tracks 11 to 20 are her 2nd album "The Second Time Around" - released September 1961 in the USA on Argo Records LP 4011 (Mono) and Argo LPS 4011 (Stereo) - the STEREO mix is used. Produced by LEONARD and PHIL CHESS - it didn't chart (no UK issue). 

21. Spoonful
22. It's A Crying Shame
Tracks 21 and 22 are the A&B-sides of a November 1960 US 7" single on Chess 1771.
Credited to ETTA and HARVEY as in Etta James and Harvey Fuqua (of The Moonglows)

23. If I Can't Have You - July 1960 A-side of a USA 7" single on Chess 1760. Credit as per Tracks 21 and 22.
24. Good Rockin' Daddy - August 1955 A-side of a USA 7" single on Modern 45x962
25. Market Place – March 1957 A-side of a USA 7" single on Modern 45x1016
26. Strange Things Happening - on the 1961 LP "Miss Etta James" on Crown Records CP 5209 as "Strange Things"
(Sister Rosetta Tharpe cover recorded in 1958 - also on the "Good Rockin' Mama" 10" LP released April 1981 in the UK on Charly 10 CH 33)
27. You Know What I Mean - on the 1961 LP "Miss Etta James" on Crown Records CP 5209

The liner notes are by SANTI COMELLES and the 16-page booklet is beautifully done - festooned with memorabilia photos - trade adverts - concert posters - Argo, Modern and Chess label repros and even has the original liner notes for the two LPs in colour at the rear. The attention to detail is impressive - in amongst the photo collages is the 10" Charly R&B LP "Good Rockin' Mama" from 1981 that wisely featured her cover of Rosetta Tharpe's gospel and guitar song "Strange Things Happening" only recently used to great effect in the opening episode of the American 'stopping Kennedy's assassination' TV program "11.22.63". There’s pictures of her at home, in the studio and even a handwritten thank you note.

Yet for such a beautifully presented booklet - as this stuff is outside copyright - the reissue credits are rather conveniently non-existent and no one is credited with mastering anything anywhere. Yet this CD sounds utterly stupendous - especially the STEREO LPs. The "At Last!" album comes off best - the full string arrangements of The Riley Hampton Orchestra swirling romantically around your speakers. Sure there is faint hiss on some of the "Second Time Around" tracks (only some) - but then songs like the smoocher "Don't Cry Baby" and drum-shuffling "Seven Day Fool" can only be described as awesome-sounding. Overall the Audio is top class throughout.

Her debut album is the stuff of early Soul legend - but in truth the overall listen is more of a crooner LP with a Soulful set of pipes out front - a shuffling R&b rhythm section backing her up - and the Riley Hampton Orchestra lushing-up every track with swooping strings. "Anything To Say You're Mine"  and the sappy "My Dearest Darling" set the pace - "please love me too" pleas in every sentence. Things go lounge-lizard with "Trust In Me" followed by her one a.m. torch ballad - a cover of The Harp-tones 1953 Vocal Group classic on Bruce Records - "A Sunday Kind Of Love". It's all leading up to the album's central masterpiece - the gorgeous "At Last" - a song that still touches and tingles after all these decades. Other highlights include the let's get frisky song "I Just Want To Make Love To You" - a Willie Dixon song made famous by Muddy Waters on Chess in 1954and covered by hundreds of band since. Sway with your double-brandy to the weepy "All I Could Do Was Cry" as you watch her walk down the aisle with someone else (stroppy cow) - but comfort yourself with the warmth of "Stormy Weather" - no sun up in the sky but feelin' fine. The debut is the kind of album you can listen to start to finish and wallow in its romanticism and bluesy needing...

1961's "The Second Time Around" LP continues in the same vein as the debut album - and with performances such as "Don't Cry Baby" and the smokey barroom shuffle of "Fool That I Am" - it seems odd that it didn't chart. Maybe the public weren't interested in yet another interpretation of Frank Sinatra's "One For My Baby" no matter how good she sang. Songs like "In My Diary" sound like teenage angst when she wasn't a teenybopper anymore and the brassy "Plum Nuts" just sounds out of place - a great vocal but a hammy song at its core. Mercer's "Dream" gets given an awful upbeat makeover while the Duke Ellington classic "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" finishes the album - but you can't help but feel you won't be getting round to this album much anytime soon. The singles include three duets with Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows and including the brill "Strange Things Happening" make for a much better listen as a seven piece than the entire 10-track 2nd album.

Soul Jam’s CD has really great presentation, mostly decent material (excepting that 2nd LP dip) including some balls-to-the-wall classics and properly gorgeous Stereo sound. A very, very impressive CD reissue and one that Etta James will need to own...

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