Etta James

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Merry Christmas Baby
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Jingle Bells
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White Christmas
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O Holy Night (Cantique De Noel)
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Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
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The Little Drummer Boy
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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
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The Christmas Song
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Joy To The World
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Silent Night
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This Christmas
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Amazing Grace
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Winter Wonderland
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Christmas Duets & Collaborations
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Huston Person, Etta James - Together At Christmas
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Oh Happy Christmas Day With Etta

With a career that saw her first single ‘The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)’ released in 1955 it may seem slightly odd that blues singer Etta James’ Christmas record did not materialise until 44 years later (Aretha Franklin took a similar route to festive Narnia). But then not many singers could produce goods as precious as James’ ’12 Songs of Christmas’ so late in their career. With a knowing sense of cool Etta dispatched a dozen festive tracks with panache and style. Right from the off ‘Winter Wonderland’ displayed James unhurried style and while her vocals were the focus there are several jazzy instrumental interludes to calm you down after another frenetic Christmas outing.

’12 Songs of Christmas’ is flush with brass, piano parts and Etta James smoky vocals which proves a perfect combination for her version of ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’. Hard to believe that this is a 1998 recording because there is such a feeling of a classic recording about it and much of the praise must go to the background team and arranger Cedar Walton in particular. With the bar set so high at just a few songs in it is to James’ credit that her versions of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ and ‘White Christmas’ add something new to songs that have been rethreaded so many times over the years.

As ’12 Songs of Christmas’ turns down the lights Etta James ushers in a trio of carols and while the swagger of early tracks is missing there is such enjoyment to be had in revelling in her vocals. ‘Silent Night’ is a near acapella so when ‘Joy To The World’ brings back the music it makes for a wonderful change of tempo. All that is left is for ‘O Holy Night’ to bring down the curtain, which it does in ways that remind one of Mahalia Jackson. With so few modern Christmas album’s adding to the classics of the middle part of the 20th century ’12 Songs of Christmas’ certainly stands out as a glorious exception.

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