Willie James Lyons (1938-1980) was born in a family of musicians in Alabama but came very young to Chicago, started playing guitar at the age of 7 and played professional at 14! This album is the first that he has recorded. He was very personal musiscian, an exceptional creator with inventive ideas, with phrases full of lyrism and feeling. His beautiful warm and pure tone allows one to identify him from the first notes. Great soloist and accompanist….
Despite a career spanning more than 50 years and a gold medal at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition (among others), pianist John Lill may be an artist sadly missing from many CD collections. Heralded as an intellectual musician, his approach to the instrument is decidedly academic and straightforward. This is not to say that his music-making is not impassioned or thoughtful anymore than the same could be said of Starker or Gingold simply because they are master technicians at their instruments.
In many ways Etta James resembled a female Ray Charles in her unerring ability to tackle (and sometimes combine) all of the strands of American popular music, from rock & roll to R&B, blues, country, gospel, jazz, and pure pop and soul, while still maintaining a distinct feel and sound that was all her own, and she did this throughout a five-decade career that is impressive for its consistency. This 25-track set (mostly drawn from her time with Chess Records) is hardly definitive (it doesn't have classic James' tracks like "Anything to Say You're Mine," "Don't Cry Baby," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," or the girl group pop of "Two Sides (To Every Story)," for instance, or any of her late-career blues tracks), but it does do a good job of spotlighting James' range and versatility by collecting sides like her signature "At Last," the soul-pop masterpieces "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," and saucy versions of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," all of which offer ample proof that James was one of the best singers of her generation – in any style.
After her tough blues and R&B records in the early years of the 21st century – 2003's Let's Roll and 2004's Blues to the Bone – Etta James throws a quiet storm changeup. All the Way's 11 tracks are pop songs – indeed, a few are standards – written between the 1930s and the 1990s. James song choices are curious. The Great American Songbook tunes include the title track (written by Samuel Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen), Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's "Somewhere" from West Side Story, and even Bob Telson's "Calling You" from the score to the 1987 film Baghdad Cafe – it's been recorded by everyone from Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion to Jeff Buckley and Gal Costa…