In many ways Etta James resembled a female Ray Charles in her unerring ability to tackle (and sometimes combine) all of the strands of American popular music, from rock & roll to R&B, blues, country, gospel, jazz, and pure pop and soul, while still maintaining a distinct feel and sound that was all her own, and she did this throughout a five-decade career that is impressive for its consistency. This 25-track set (mostly drawn from her time with Chess Records) is hardly definitive (it doesn't have classic James' tracks like "Anything to Say You're Mine," "Don't Cry Baby," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," or the girl group pop of "Two Sides (To Every Story)," for instance, or any of her late-career blues tracks), but it does do a good job of spotlighting James' range and versatility by collecting sides like her signature "At Last," the soul-pop masterpieces "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," and saucy versions of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," all of which offer ample proof that James was one of the best singers of her generation – in any style.
Taken from the high-energy harpist's first three albums for Verve following his split from Muddy Waters (including the entirety of his fine eponymous 1967 debut), this 20-track anthology is a fine spot to begin any serious Cotton collection. In those days, Cotton was into soul as well as blues – witness his raucous versions of "Knock on Wood" and "Turn on Your Lovelight," backed by a large horn complement. Compiler Dick Shurman has chose judiciously from his uneven pair of Verve follow-ups, making for a very consistent compilation.