Blues to the Bone

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What makes a woman sexy?

Is it prancing around half-naked on a stage, lip-synching her hits in front of screaming fans who’ll buy anything with her name on it? Is it flashing her tits on some late-night television show?

No, what makes a woman sexy is knowing.

Etta James knows. And after 50 years in the music business — and enough hard knocks to have killed her three or four times over — her knowledge is power.

Her latest, Blues to the Bone, may first seem to be old wine in a new bottle, with 12 standards every blues fan knows. But these tunes were all made famous by men, rough-and-tumble men like John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. You need to swagger your way through these songs, need to have plenty of guts and an attitude that never quits unless you want to sound like just another 12-bar poseur.

Thankfully, there’s not a moment of posing on this album, just authority gained from a life as coarse and rugged as the mojos, little red roosters and crawling king snakes Etta sings about. She takes the full measure of the songs (and the men), then comes out swinging.

The disc is a family affair, with her sons Donto and Sametto handling percussion and bass, respectively. Detroit six-stringer Bobby Murray (he of the snakeskin-covered guitar) offers his considerable skills on most of the cuts, though he’s much more understated here than he is in the clubs around town. Josh Sklar is the other guitarist; John “Juke” Logan blows the harp chores capably. The band simmers rather than boils, but that’s not a knock. Etta’s the star, an honest-to-god diva, and it’s her name above the title, after all.

She’s a long way from young (and an even longer way from svelte) but Etta’s a hell of a lot sexier than any of the blond bimbos populating the United States of Clear Channel’s airwaves these days.

E-mail Vic Doucette at letters@metrotimes.com.

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