Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Etta James: The Dreamer [Verve Forecast, 2011]
A hard liver, she's sounded old for a while. This is different--weary, diminished. Yet the physical and even mental diminution enriches the music. It was cool for her long-passed youngblood homeboy Johnny Watson to claim he was "Too Tired," but it's cooler for James to remember that song half a century later and sing it against tempo as if she may not get all the way to 2:34. The "Surely someone will understand me" of Bobby Bland's failed crossover title tune resonates differently from a dying woman. It's also different for a ghetto woman born and raised to seize "Welcome to the Jungle" and tell Axl, "If you got the money we got your disease." And having eased right into Otis Redding's blissful "Champagne and Wine," she then transforms his bone-tired, just-off-the-road marriage proposal "Cigarettes and Coffee" into an evocation of old love so calm you believe she achieved some bliss of her own, and domestic bliss at that. A-