Etta James & the Roots Band

Burnin’ Down the House

Legendary R&B singer Etta James’ career has spanned more than 50 years and 50 albums. Her latest offering is a live recording from The House of Blues in Los Angeles. As always, Ms. James does burn the house with a high-octane performance. But, in some cases, I wish she hadn’t. After decades of notorious partying and exuberant wailing, her voice is coarser, sometimes suggesting an elephant in its death-throes. During her rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” I wanted to shoot her and help the poor soul out of her misery (or mine, anyway). The CD begins well with classics like “Come to Mama” and “At Last,” but it then goes horribly wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I thought I might need to be hospitalized for an extreme case of involuntary cringing. My neck and shoulders still hurt.