January 22, 2001 12:00 PM

Etta James (Private Music)

Sounding as sexy and full of sass as she did nearly half a century ago, when she helped invent rock and roll with her bawdy 1954 classic “Roll with Me, Henry,” James proves that she is still a musical force of nature. Here she is backed by Mike Finnigan’s surging Hammond B3 organ, one of the few instruments that can compete with her deeply funky vocals. Her voice modulates from bedroom purrs to barroom howls as she covers tunes by soul greats Otis Redding (“Hawg for Ya”), Al Green (“Rhymes”) and Ray Charles (“Come Back Baby”). Straying far from the CD’s titular idiom, she also gives her full-throated gospel-rock treatment to Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” The sound of a motorcycle engine kick-starts this album. It’s an unnecessary effect. Etta’s voice is a powerhouse unto itself.

Bottom Line: Oh, Mama!

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