The Bottom Line
- The magical blues, rock, and R&B of Chess deserves all the exposure it can get.
- Some of the lesser-known artists here do a surprisingly good job at taking on the masters.
- Beyonce, talented as she is, is no Etta James.
- The sheer pointlessness of this musical project is hard to get past.
- The inclusion of a few hip-hop tracks is more likely to drive away purists than entice young fans.
- Release date: December 2, 2008
- Stax 30945
- Studio (2008)
- Single disc (Deluxe version: two discs)
- Original film soundtrack
Guide Review - Various Artists: Cadillac Records Original Movie Soundtrack
Would that it were enough. Beyonce sings Etta like a diva -- technically proficient, but overemoted and lacking every bit of Etta's sly subtext and hard-won earthiness. Beyonce knows how to sing the blues, in other words; she just doesn't know how to have them. As for Mos Def, he's proven himself as an actor, but he bears no vocal similarity to Berry whatsoever, making it hard for neophytes to understand Berry's winking, witty appeal. The big surprise is actor Jeffrey Wright, James Bond's CIA buddy in his latest films, who gets very close indeed to the classic Muddy Waters vocal and musical sound.
When these three aren't on, however, the soundtrack loses all direction: the new songs work well enough as Dreamgirls-like updates of '60s soul moves (historically wrong, but refreshing), the gaps are filled up with old Little Walter hits and covers of same (Elvis?!), until the OST finally throws up its hands entirely and falls back on rap hits from the past few years that sample Chess Records' output. (The deluxe version of the album merely repeats the formula over a second disc.) Wright would do well with his own blues album; as for the rest of you, you're better off picking up Chess' own attempt to cash in on the movie, a comp entitled The Best Of Chess Records that lets you really feel the music, not just learn it.