Magazine article The New Yorker

Old Dogs, Old Tricks

Magazine article The New Yorker

Old Dogs, Old Tricks

Article excerpt

Etta James's career kicked off with a woman's answer to a man's hit--"Roll with Me, Henry," which talked back to Hank Ballard's "Work with Me, Annie"--but these days she's enough of an institution that she doesn't bother rewriting lyrics: anything she touches becomes hers, as if by fiat. On "Let's Roll" (Private Music), she remakes Delbert McClinton's infidelity blues "Lie No Better" without changing the narrator's gender: the result is a particularly tangled psychodrama ("Honey, I smell some other man all over your cashmere sweater," she sings). James's tenth album in the last ten years, "Let's Roll" is the closest she's come to a bona-fide rock-and-soul record since the mid-seventies. "Someone to Love" moves along briskly on a Keith Richards-style riff, and "The Blues Is My Business" proves that swagger only ripens with age. And "A Change Is Gonna Do Me Good" finds James, more than forty years after "At Last," still having her way with a heartsick ballad.

John Hiatt released the acoustic blues album "Crossing Muddy Waters" in 2000 and the rock album "The Tiki Bar Is Open" in 2001. "Beneath This Gruff Exterior" (New West) keeps the volume and the tempos up, thanks to Hiatt's longtime backing band the Goners, and especially the virtuosic slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, whose solos wind like a vine through the record. …

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