Sunday, February 19, 2012


Ravaged by a lifetime of drug dependency that moved from mid-life heroin to later painkillers, then final battles with Alzheimer's and leukemia, James was able to make a final album in the months before her passing in January.  She even got to know it was out there, and well received, as it came out initially in November, and now gets a reactivated push.  Quite surprisingly, it's a darn fine album too, in fact could win awards even without the usually sentimentality that goes with honouring the recently-deceased.

James is rightly considered one of the great singers of all time, and despite all her health issues, her voice never diminished on disc.  Every song here gets a tremendous performance, whether a blues ballad, pop number or R'n'B classic.  There's not many that can equal Otis Redding, but here she tackles two of his gems, the themed pair of Champagne & Wine and Cigarettes & Coffee, and makes them her own.  Bobby "Blue" Bland's Dreamer sounds like it was written for her in the first place, and serves here as the closest number to a valedictory address.  Across the board, the song choices are smart, and even the outlandish idea of covering Guns n' Roses Welcome To The Jungle works, as James recasts it as a funky and gritty piece.

Since the start of the 2000's, James has been working with her two sons, Donto and Sametto, a drummer and bass player respectively.  Again, this is a situation that often turns out weakly (Frank Sinatra Jr., anyone?), more of a boost for the kids than the parent, but it turns out the boys not just looked after mom, together as co-producers, they came up with a plan and product that rivals anything from her long career.  If you want to hear beyond At Last, there's nothing wrong with grabbing this as well as her earlier works. 

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