This a great sampler of the early Etta James, 1960 to 1975, when she sang like a cross between Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. One minute her voice is gentle and yearning. the next minute sheŐs stomping, growling, and roaring Đ the greatest r&b belter of all time. She has one of the most striking, goosebump-raising voices in the history of music. If all you know of Etta James is "At Last," you owe yourself this album. Not every song on here is a winner. For years no one seemed to be able to figure out what to do with Etta JamesŐ obvious talent, and they kept trying her out in different styles of music. The album is arranged in chronological order, so you hear her move from melodramatic teenage tearjerkers like "All I Could Do Was Cry," to romantic ballads ("At Last" is her most famous song, but there are a half dozen others on this album just as beautiful), to party r&b ("In The Basement"), to the Memphis Soul of "Tell Mama" and "IŐd Rather Go Blind," and finally into adventurous explorations of challenging songwriters like Randy Newman (her version of NewmanŐs "GodŐs Song" still gives me chills no matter how many times I listen to it.) The Essential Etta James is like a history of 60s and 70s soul music. Fascinating. But itŐs not just a period piece. The truth is, thereŐs no kind of music Etta James canŐt sing. She bring soul and grace to everything she touches. She makes the dumb songs fun, and the great ones masterpieces. And sheŐs STILL doing wonderful work, more than forty years after she started. But this album is where you can hear the astonishing range of her gift. This is where any newcomer should begin.