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July/August 2002

Etta James and the Roots Band
Burnin' Down the House
RCA/Private Music

Reviewing Etta James' Burnin' Down the House (RCA/Private Music) is like reminding folks that Tiffany sells good jewelry. Last December, the inimitable Miss James moved into the House of Blues on L.A.'s Sunset Strip for a weeklong run. Critics high-tailed it to their thesauruses in search of laudatory adjectives. Fortunately, the folks at RCA were clever enough to recognize an ideal opportunity for a live album. What you'll hear is an American treasure in top form, performing familiar hits (including a seminal "At Last" that will knock your socks off) and rock 'n' roll favorites (James, a self-confessed motorcycle mama, has a blast revisiting "Born to Be Wild"). Filling out the 11-song set are various contemporary numbers that are rarely interpreted with such gutsy panache (witness her raunchy take on Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," which definitely goes all the way). What you'll also hear is a capacity crowd sending wave after powerful wave of love and appreciation across the stage. James deserves nothing less.

Originally published in July/August 2002
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