PentaTone's live recording of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles is billed as the world premiere recording, though it was preceded by the 1991 video recording of the Metropolitan Opera's production, which was conducted by James Levine and starred Teresa Stratas. Even so, this 2016 audiophile presentation of the LA Opera production, conducted by James Conlon, is a major event for opera lovers, especially since the Met's recording is difficult to find and performances of The Ghosts of Versailles are rare.
As the title suggests, this is the definitive edition of Etta James' Tell Mama long-player. For this single-disc release the original album is augmented with five previously unissued tracks – documented during James' four Muscle Shoals sessions circa '67-'68. The question of why a rural Alabama town became a conduit for some of the most memorable and instantly identifiable grooves may still be up for debate. The evidence exists in droves and Tell Mama could certainly be considered exhibit A. These sessions feature the same impact that would redirect several first ladies of soul. Notable among them are Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis, Aretha Franklin's I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) and to somewhat lesser acclaim, Jackie DeShannon's Jackie. Tell Mama showcases some of the unique and admittedly darker qualities of what might best be described as R&B noir. "I'd Rather Go Blind," "Steal Away," "I'm Gonna Take What He's Got" all exemplify the essence of the blues – making the best of a bad situation.
Come a Little Closer is a surprisingly effective mating of a distinctive singer with seemingly incongruous material and production. Helmed by Gabriel Mekler, who'd produced Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night, the record features Etta James supported by a slew of hotshot L.A. session men (including Little Feat's Lowell George). The song selection ranges from "St. Louis Blues" to Randy Newman's perverse "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield" to the dramatic, melismatic "Feeling Uneasy," in which the junk-hungry James improvised wordlessly over an otherwise blues progression. Here's more evidence that Etta is one of the most versatile vocalists of her era.