Etta James: “Fool That I Am” (Argo 5390, 1961)

So long to Etta James, who passed away at the end of last week. She was 73. She had a hell of a story, and a hell of a look, but the part of her that will linger longest is her voice.

What a voice. She had more famous songs, maybe better ones even, but for me, this is the song that most fully epitomizes just how incredible her singing could be.

The song comes on a bed of swanky strings, but the opulence quickly strips back to the singer and a small combo, and she is just as firmly in command of the song as a singer can get. Emotionally shredded but still precise and full of the rhythmic imagination that helped make her so special, this performance just kills me. The way it hangs in the air, like the “smoke from a cigarette” that she sings about, caught by a few stray rays of light, is almost its own memorial to her.

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