may 2012

Etta Britt: original, intensely personal reflections on life passages.

Into The Light

By David McGee

Etta Britt
Wrinkled Records

When approaching Etta Britt’s powerful Out of the Shadows album, it’s best you prepare both for a compelling blue-eyed soul-blues experience and for an emotional ride strictly of the emotional roller-coaster variety. Ms. Britt’s husky, sensuous voice is at its expressive best on a fine collection of tunes, some of the best being her original, intensely personal reflections on life passages.

For outside material she doesn’t mess around: the team of Billy Maddox, Paul Thorn and Lari White contributed the Memphis soul-tinged “High” (you’ll be sure you hear a fleeting quote from “Let’s Stay Together” as the song begins), a steady groovin’ bit of self-flagellation Ms. Britt inflicts on herself for throwing good love away, her testimonial bolstered by the punch of a horn section and the fierce gospel-rooted backup vocals by the formidable trio of Bekka Bramlett, Vicki Hampton and Jackie Wilson; from the late, great Harlan Howard, she tackles Joe Simon’s monumental 1969 chart topper, “The Chokin’ Kind,” in a slow, thick, organ-bolstered groove that heightens the singer’s anguish over enmeshing herself in a suffocating relationship she recounts in breathless phrases betraying a Mavis Staples influence, as the the fabled McCary Sisters, daughters of the late Rev. Samuel McCrary of the Fairfield Four, console her with silky background vocals; from Michael McDonald and John Berry comes a wrenching, string-drenched heartbreaker, “In the Tears,” concerning a woman’s last, desperate pleas as her relationship crashes all around her, with Chris Eddy’s gritty singing complementing a masterfully textured reading by Ms. Britt, who walks a fine line between resignation and seeking some form of reconciliation upon parting. All is not so bleak as these songs suggest, however. Delbert McClinton makes the scene to reprise a funky version of his “Leap of Faith,” sparring energetically with Ms. Britt vocally as the percussion thumps, the horns pump, the piano struts and the guitar stings behind them in a buoyant, high spirited moment reminiscent of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at their rollicking best.

Etta Britt is joined by Delbert McClinton on a version of Delbert’s hit, ‘Leap of Faith,’ as heard on Ms. Britt’s Out of the Shadows album

Still and all, the album’s ascent into the realm of personal statement turns on two of Ms. Britt’s finely crafted memoir-like ruminations centered on life passages she finds to be more profound than she had considered a priori. Both essentially are torch songs, piano and vocal showcases, even though other instruments are present, albeit sotto voce. “Quiet House,” the most interior of the two songs, does nothing less than survey the unsettling stillness within—within a house where children have left the nest to go into the world on their own, and within a parent’s unsettled soul as she comes to grip with deafening silence and poignant memories, realizing “time just for me” is what she always dreamed of. But “this is nothing like I thought it’d be.” Ms. Britt is fully inside the song, and barely, it seems, in control of her emotions as the piano laments softly and a cello rises hauntingly behind her until she bursts out with a piercing cry--“all aloooooo-ne…in a quiet house”—made all the more penetrating by a raspy edge in her voice, as if she were on the verge of tears. The album closes with “She’s Eighteen,” which shifts the focus from the singer’s existential crises to her departing daughter’s fate upon leaving the family fold. The gravitas in Ms. Britt’s sturdy singing as she recalls her offspring's growing pains gradually gives way to a trembling recognition that “she’s not a baby anymore and it’s killing me…”  Ms. Britt’s producer/guitarist/husband Bob Britt fashions an affecting soundscape behind his spouse, allowing the strings and piano to rise just so as the narrative builds, then reining everything in as the narrative resolves on the only sensible note on which it should resolve: “I have faith she’ll be OK out there on her own,” Ms. Britt asserts, “’cause God will hold her in his hands/she won’t be alone/she’s eighteen.” If there isn’t a huge audience for these songs, someone tell me what I’m missing. After spending some six years (1979-1985) as a member of the popular country group Dave & Sugar, the Kentucky-born Ms. Britt has gone on to become one of the most in-demand backup singers around, ranging from country to soul to rock. Out of those shadows at last, she means to be dealt with. It’s hard to imagine a better start towards that goal than this album.

Etta Britt’s Out of the Shadows is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024