Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Etta James: The Chess Box [Chess, 2000]
More is more. Time and again, especially when this early bloomer is still in her twenties, she defeats ordinary songwriting and production far more decisively than Aretha did at Columbia. Aretha's her competition, too--even today, James's voice is a wonder, so gritty it's filthy and so sweet it's filthier than that. Only 22 when this 1960-76 span began, she was possessed of a shrewd intelligence that understood standards like "Lover Man" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" just fine--r&b singers had been changing pace with the stuff since the '40s. She only stumbled artistically when she learned how meaningful she was. Graded leniently for deep-sixing Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On." A