James's Swansong The Believer is a beautiful illustration of an artist calling her own shots.
Swansong records can often come with too much hype that often overshadows the artist's catalogue. Some artists also get caught up with the occasion and the end results could sound too forced. Not for the 73-year-old soul legend Etta James, who with The Dreamer, the 29th album of her formidable catalogue, is calling it quits to focus on her health. The album forms an elegant finale to a career which is not only genre defining but also heroic in terms of overcoming personal afflictions. The songs here are a smooth blend with old standards and interesting selections. The opener Groove Me struts confidently with tight funk arrangements and James's husky voice gives the affair an added sensuality. James continues on the subtle route when tackling iconic soul tracks by Otis Redding (Cigarettes & Coffee) and Bobby Bland (Dreamer); while the songs are not radically altered, James is more content working the space in between, adding different layers and accenting different phrases that are more complementary than reinvention. However, James always had a knack for stretching herself. This time, she valiantly tries to wrap herself around Guns N' Roses' Welcome to the Jungle, but it doesn't seem to take off. That misfire aside, the album is a beautiful distillation of an artist calling her own shots and expanding an underrated genre at the same time.