The Monday Moment

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really been a fan of Christina Aguilera’s singing. She clearly has a great voice, but every time I listen to her all I can think about is, “Wow, nice range!”

And so I find this rendition of Etta James’ “At Last” that she delivered at Etta’s memorial kinda depressing and lacking in anything that might be described as “soulful”.

Amazing how “praised” this performance has been since it aired. Also a testament about how marginalized the music sometimes referred to as “soul” has become. She loses me about thirty seconds in when she hasn’t even completed the first verse because of her vocal histrionics. She did the same thing at the Super Bowl recently, just sucked any trace of emotion out of the song because of her need to flex her vocal gymnastics. Want to grab the girl and just yell into her face, “Just sing the fucking song, sweetheart!”

So as a pick me up I offer a version of the same song from the woman that originated it, Ms. Etta James. It’s kind of a weird recording from a movie I think, but Etta is clearly singing it live. Her vocal control, even at her age, probably sixties, and the emotion she communicates is truly remarkable.

You compare.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. I actually dig Aguilera’s version. I usually find the kind of vocal ‘gymnastics’ of which you speak to be irritating for the reasons you lay out, but here I find them to be fitting and right in synch with Aguilera’s emotion. I even welled up with tears at the end.

    The arrangement and piano accompaniment, which are complex and jazzy, almost require a healthy dose of vocal rigmarole. I think that Aguilera does a good job of balancing on the thin line between that jazzy arrangement and the soulful moment.

    • I hear ya, Andrea. For me though I’m so busy listening to all the notes that she’s hitting I don’t hear the song, the story, the lyrics, and hence the emotion the singer is attempting to convey. When I hear Aguilera’s version all I hear is, “Look at me”. When I hear James’ version I hear, “Listen to my song”. Therein lies the difference for me.

  2. Sure, I can see that. Aguilera is definitely trying to prove something. Perhaps trying to prove that she belongs there?

  3. Could be. Again, gal’s got a serious voice, no argument there, just wish she’d simplify what she’s doing and just let it rip, ya know?

    You listen to someone like Al Green or Sam Cooke or Otis Redding or Van Morrison or Artetha Franklin or Janis Joplin, when they held and played with notes it seemed to come from a very deep place as if they were trying to make that note communicate what they were feeling – and they did it sparingly. A sign of a more mature artist, in my opinion.

  4. You mention Van Morrison, whom I love, and part of what I love about him is the length of his songs. Remember Astral Weeks? Each song is a lengthy, almost relentless lament. When he created that album, he clearly had no concern for complying to typical form or structure and wrote and sang at a pace that enabled him to express. He served his song, not the other way around.

  5. You’re basically talking to THE Van Morrison, aficionado, Andrea. Seen him twenty plus times, own pretty much every note he’s ever recorded bootleg or legit and Astral Weeks in my opinion is the greatest album ever recorded and Madame George is simply the greatest song every recorded.

    And you’re right, he did serve his songs, HIS songs. “At Last” isn’t Aguilera’s song, it’s James’, in the same way that the Star Spangled Banner never belongs to those who sing it, a certain respect, a certain obligation to “serve the song” is always there. Make it your own, but be true to the song.

    Listen to Van the Man interpret other people’s songs, always makes it his own, but he knows the song he’s singing and he always tries to tell that story as deeply as he can. Check out his rendition of “Send in the Clowns”. It’s out there somewhere. Awesome.

  6. Colin –

    I wasn’t arguing with you. I was agreeing with you. I was taking your point about serving the song and the emotion behind it rather than the needs of the singer. I thought that was a good point. I was ‘yes-anding’ you. :)

  7. Damn, Andrea, that was from like two months ago!

    I think we just had an Austin Powers moment.