ETTA JAMES At Last! (Speakers Corner)

On Etta James’ debut album, huge arrangements swoop over the listener, with Etta’s voice holding magisterial court at the centre of the orchestral ruckus. The closest comparison I can make is early Dusty Springfield, although this 1961 release predates even that. The acquisitional message behind “Tough Mary” might not be particularly commendable, but her strutting version of “I Just Want To Make Love To You” almost turns Willie Dixon’s song into a feminist anthem. The album reaches a kind of peachy creamy apotheosis during “Sunday Kind Of Love”, “At Last” and “Stormy Weather”, which coyly hint at a subtlety and vulnerability that isn’t visited elsewhere.

Speakers Corner’s vinyl reissue is much, much better than some of the company’s recent work (I’m thinking in particular of “Muddy Waters At Newport 1960” and Chuck Berry’s “St. Louis To Liverpool”, my copies of which were frankly unfit for purpose), its sonics no doubt gently massaged towards goodness by the fact that neither side contains more than 15 minutes of music. A weirdly wandering soundstage undermines some tracks, but what distortions there are can surely be attributed to the recording equipment of 50 years ago blanching in the face of Etta’s blast rather than any shortcomings on Speakers Corner’s part.