[By Franceasca Seiden ]Legendary blues, R&B, Funk, Gospel, Jazz, and Soul singer Etta James has been battling the final stages of terminal leukemia and suffering from dementia. She made the conscious choice of releasing The Dreamer before retiring her career spanning 57 years.
She was hospitalized this year and was just taken off a respirator to spend time at home with her two sons. The Matriarch of R & B was inducted into the Rock n Roll hall of fame in 1993 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001 as well as the Grammy Hall of Fame both in 1999 and again in 2008.
Her troubled past began at birth, as her mother was only fourteen when she had Etta, and her father had never been identified. She was raised in various homes due to her mother’s appetite for a variety of men. She began her vocal training with a Baptist minister who had a tendency to wake her up in the middle of the night to sing for his friends.
He was usually drunk when this happened, and if Etta refused, he would beat her. This gave way to her reluctance to sing on demand although that would eventually change. At 14 she joined an all-girl group and was discovered by Johnny Otis who eventually signed the girls and they toured, opening for Little Richard. In 1960 her debut album At Last
was released followed by other infamous records like Tell Mama and I’d Rather Go Blind. In the 70’s her addiction to heroin and alcohol led to several arrests for her and her husband.
With stints in rehab and financial difficulties, Etta began to perform again but her addictions haunt her to this day. Battling health problems from Hepatitis C, Leukemia, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Etta managed to get back in the studio to give us The Dreamer.
Etta’s powerhouse of a voice covers songs spanning generations and genres on The Dreamer. “Groove Me” originally
recorded by King Floyd begins the record. Her innovative style shines through Guns N Roses infamous “Welcome to The Jungle.” At first listen with a little background we understand why she chose it to be within the twelve songs that make up this album. Ray Charles’s “In the Evening” and Little Milton’s “Let Me Down Easy” are also included.
Etta brings the blues, the seediness of sadness and years of heartbreak to even the happiest of tracks. Whether it is her haunting past of abuse, failed relationships, drug and alcohol addiction, her life experience and myriad of vast emotions she has gone through, pain breeds fresh sentiment to the listener, especially on the title track to the album “Dreamer.” A “Misty Blue” cover chorus touches my sentimental heart especially by Ms. James: “I should forget you/Heaven
knows I tried/But, when I say/ I’m glad we’re through/ My heart knows I’ve lied.”
“Coffee and Cigarettes”, subtle plead for a lover to enjoy a simple conversation over coffee and cigs is an activity that most creative beings gravitate towards and appreciate.
“In the Evening”, a sultry bluesy ballad, strong guitar and keys sends the imagination rapid. “I was just thinking, thinking to myself/Yeah, and uh, how in the world can somebody / Mistreat you for somebody else.”
As a fan from another generation, I have always idolized Etta and her ability to let us into her heart even at 73 year old. “Let Me Down Easy” another track about mistreated love and dishonesty will make you grin by the way she presents it to us, almost an educational lesson on heartbreak and love lost by deceitful tricks of the trade. She isn’t giving us her sorrow or sympathy; she is giving us a lesson in strength, power and wisdom. Taking it from the depths of heartbreak
and pouring it into her music, inspiring generations of music lovers even towards her final days.