The “greatest of all modern blues singers”, in the words of Atlantic Records founder Jerry Wexler, has had a turbulent life (drug addiction, bad relationships, jail sentences). Now Etta James, 73, is dogged by illness. You come to her farewell album The Dreamer expecting frailty and weariness, a soul singer’s trip down the darkening lane that Johnny Cash trod in his later recordings.
But such thoughts disappear with her opening cover of King Floyd’s 1970 hit “Groove Me”, which finds her delivering a low, voluptuous vocal over a sturdy funk strut. She remains a vivacious and strong-willed presence throughout the album, even during its frequent lapses into mid-tempo, supper-club respectability. The highlight is a worldly, seductive take on Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee”: as good a note as any on which to exit.