Etta James’s catalog is so expansive, it’s imposing. Start with these five albums, which prove just how versatile she was throughout her career.
ETTA JAMES ROCKS THE HOUSE (1964)
Recorded live in Nashville, as James was at the peak of her powers, working over her early hits with a dynamic band and feeding off an intense chemistry with the crowd, especially on “Seven Day Fool.’’
TELL MAMA (1968)
As the title track of this album recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., attests, Southern soul came naturally to James. A 2001 reissue featured bonus tracks, including a spirited take on “I Got You Babe.’’
COME A LITTLE CLOSER (1974)
The story goes that James made this record while in rehab. That pain and uncertainty are palpable throughout, never more so than on the wails and moans of “Feeling Uneasy.’’
MYSTERY LADY: SONGS OF BILLIE HOLIDAY (1994)
James’s jazz salute to one of her idols was a revelation: sumptuous but still deeply probing. Especially now, it’s heartrending to hear her version of “I’ll Be Seeing You.’’
THE DREAMER (2011)
Released in November, James’s swan song was solid and full of surprises, including a funky reworking of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.’’ And, as seen on the album cover, it’s fitting that James went out the way she first captivated audiences in the ’60s - as a fierce platinum blonde.