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Category:    Home > Reviews > Concert > Soul > Jazz > Etta James - Burnin' Down The House

Etta James & The Roots Band - Burnin’ Down The House


Picture: D     Sound: B     Extras: D     Main Concert: B



Among the great female vocalists of the 20th Century, Etta James stands tall.  While many women in music either were stuck in one genre, or only known for their work for a brief time, James conquered both Soul and Contemporary music.  At Last” is a standard masterpiece that keeps resurfacing, including in films like Rain Man and Pleasantville, while her Tell Mama album is one of the great deep R&B masterworks of the 1960s.  I Just Want To Make Love To You” is another song that keeps coming back, most amusingly showing up in a detergent ad on TV.


This is all the more reason a new concert DVD of James would be of such interest.  How would that work?  How would it play?  Well, many later works by great artists usually disappoint, but this concert is not bad.  James may not be able to hit the highs she used to, but the richness of her voice remains.  Her phrasing and stylizing shows masterful skill, while being emotionally informed with wisdom, and experience.  That alone is reason enough anyone who loves great music needs to check out this concert DVD.


When “At Last” surfaces on the playlist here, its unmistakably her, yet it is much more Bluesy.  The happy dream and happy ending the song evokes is supplanted by a sense of light dread that actually brings out realism in the song the classic version seems to overshadow.  The “I Just Want To Make Love To You” here is less pop oriented, proving its not just pop fluff.  My Funny Valentine” especially benefits from the Blues approach here.  There are 15 songs in all, done by a real singer of substance, unlike most of the shallow female vocalists littering Pop and Soul music today.


Unfortunately, there are no extras whatsoever.  Furthermore, the picture is listed as full-screen, but Eagle Eye has made the unwise decision to anamorphically reprocess the film for a 16 x 9 widescreen TV ratio.  The problem with the 1.78 X 1 image is that whatever was good about the colorful, clear picture has been marred by digital processing problems, making future viewings less desirable.  In the future, it would probably be wise not to make last minute changes like this, as the rush to do so compromises the DVD.


The sound is available in two Dolby Digital configurations: 5.1 and 2.0 stereo, with the 5.1 preferred.  It is pretty good, but I can also see why Eagle Eye skipped DTS here.  This as not recorded for 5.1 to begin with and DTS would have emphasized those limits, so Dolby will do here.  So if you can overcome the picture, or can skip it because you want to hear some good music, check out Burnin’ Down the House.



- Nicholas Sheffo


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