Loving You More...In the Spirit of Etta James

by: Leela James

After one album for Stax, Leela James returns to Shanachie, the label that facilitated the all-covers set Let's Do It Again. One could be forgiven for glancing at the back of Loving You More...In the Spirit of Etta James, recognizing that all but two songs were once recorded by Etta, and feeling let down that Leela, once more, is leaning on music from an era that predates her birth. After all, her previous album was her best yet and showed that she was coming into her own as a songwriter. However, Loving You More is both reverent and imaginative. It's not just the range of the source material, which roams from the earliest part of Etta's career (including 1961's "At Last" and "Sunday Kind of Love") to the later years (Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby," covered by Etta in 1998). It's also the boldness that comes with the number of drastic rearrangements, the most excellent of which is the transformation of the blues-gospel ballad "I'm Loving You More Every Day" into late-'70s/early-'80s-style soul-disco. The two originals -- "Soul Will Never Die" and "Old School Kind of Love" -- are sturdy enough to be mistaken for covers. Leela honors her hero and, yes, makes nine old songs her own. That's not easy to do. ~ Andy Kellman

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