Eagle Eye Media presents
Etta James and the Roots Band: Burnin' Down the House (2001)
“Nowhere to turn / Tired of being alone / Feel like breaking up somebody's home"- Etta James
Stars: Etta James
Other Stars: Josh Sklair, Bobby Murray, David Woodford, Lee Thornburg, Tom Poole, Michael Finnigan, Sametto James, Donto James, Luis Conte, Ronnie Buttacovoli, Jimmy Zavala, Dave Matthews
Director: Daniel E. Catullo III
Manufacturer: Media Galleries
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:31m:19s
Release Date: 2002-09-03
DVD ReviewOne of the grande dames of blues is given the red-carpet treatment here, as Etta James and her longtime backup group, the Roots Band, rumble through fifteen songs in an hour and a half, in a concert designed to showcase the lady and her music. James is one of those performers whose voice you know, even if you can't put a name to it—but there's no anonymity here, as the spotlight begins on her, and stays with her until she's ready to say good night.
Things kick into high gear right away with James growling her way through the bluesy Come To Mama. We're tossed right into the middle of things, which is fine, as the venue seems to be well chosen—the set was recorded at the House of Blues, on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, for an audio release as well as this DVD. The club is large enough for the audience to reach a critical mass, but not too big to make James another anonymous performer. (Though that hardly seems possible.)
She gets solid backing from her all-boy band; there's no competition for the title of queen bee during this gig. (And it's a family affair, too, as two of her sons, Sametto and Donto, are among her musicians.) She covers some well-known tunes (Born To Be Wild, Take Me To The River), as well as offering renditions of her own compositions, including I'd Rather Be Blind, a particular crowd pleaser. Her tunes of course are the stuff of classic blues—women wronged by their men, or making time with another woman's man, or just generally fed up with all the worst that living can bring. Things are bad, but having an Etta James song to listen to may make the bitter pills that life has to offer go down a little easier.
Not every song can be a gem, and a couple of them here feel like filler; if the set needed to be winnowed down further, I don't know that Your Good Thing Is About To End, for instance, would survive the cut. And then there's the occasional obvious misstep—on You Can Leave Your Hat On, James affects what I'm guessing is supposed to be a Cockney accent on a long spoken passage, and she sounds much more Boris Karloff than the blues. But that's more than made up by the high points, and the changes of pace—her version of My Funny Valentine turns this cabaret standard into a plaintive, guitar-accented R&B number.
James looks rather regal, in a sequined red top, sitting in front of a microphone with the obligatory bottle of water by her side. (She remains seated for the entire event.) Her voice may not be as crystalline pure as it was decades ago, on her first recording of At Last, one of her signature tunes, and she's dropped a good half an octave, at least, but she's been such a professional for so long, and still has most of her chops, so it's as much the decades of experience as the pure talent that make her worth listening to.
The set list is as follows:
Come To Mama
I Just Want To Make Love To You
Born To Be Wild
I'd Rather Be Blind
All The Way Down
Breaking Up Somebody's Home
You Can Leave Your Hat On
Something's Got A Hold On Me
Your Good Thing Is About To End
Rock Me Baby
Love & Happiness
Take Me To The River
My Funny Valentine
Stranger On The Floor
The occasional cutaways to the audience and the frequent shots of James's musicians indicate that everyone in the room is having a fine old time, and if you crank it up loud, you probably will, too.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The stage lighting makes the proceedings look a little garish, and the color levels are a problem throughout. But the multi-camera shoot is given a pretty fair transfer, despite the inherent limitations of the source material. It's a little overcut and there are a few too many dolly shots, but it's a more than adequate rendering of the original concert.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track spreads out James's backing musicians, and the horn section is a little too prominent, at the expense of the keyboards especially. The 2.0 stereo track is certainly adequate, though the dynamics aren't nearly as crisp; sometimes it's clearly the microphones and audio track growling, not Etta James. Both audio selections are extremely heavy on the bass; James's voice is a powerful instrument, but it can get lost in the mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Chapter stops for each of the songs are the only extras on the disc.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsIt's a pleasure to see one of the great ladies of R&B get her due on this disc. She and her band tear it up, and it's nice to see that the music remains vital, and that the set doesn't feel like a museum piece. A keeper for blues fans—come to mama, babies.
Jon Danziger 2002-09-11