Etta Jones' 'Unchained Melody' (Prestige, 1961)

Take a moment to listen to this glorious rendition and be surprised by the way Etta Jones completely transforms the song associated with Elvis/the Righteous Brothers (and had - until this point - made me recoil because of its white-wedding slow dance associations).  

Described by All Music as a 'most adventurous, eccentric' version in a review of the 2002 reissue of Jones's Prestige era singles, a review that highlighted the Oliver Nelson string arrangement, this song is extremely touching and sweet.   

The sharp contrast between Jones's wavering vocals, hesitant in places, almost shy and the bombastic instrumentation is beyond eccentric; as is the way she swings stretching words in a way that is simply divine. You can hear her voice - her accent - in all senses. 

The song was originally written for a 1955 prison film, Unchained, which coincedentally featured a Dexter Gordon cameo where he played the part of a saxophonist in the prison band. (Gordon was an inmate at the time of filming at Chino, serving time for heroin possession).

Jones is generally considered to be a second-tier jazz vocalist, but I much prefer her delivery to the other more famous singers of her generation. You can hear something of her character in the way she sings. 

The New York Times obituary marking her death in 2001 wrote:

Born in Aiken, S.C., and reared in Harlem, Ms. Jones early on developed wily devices for a small voice. She used silence, the sound of the breath, a quick yodel here and there, lyric readings that drew out or shut down syllables idiosyncratically, and a sliding pitch that made her an extraordinary blues singer.
— 'Etta Jones, Jazz Standards Vocalist, Dies at 72' Ben Ratliff, October 19, 2001, The New York Times

'I need your love,' Jones sings, 'God is gonna speed your love to-oo-o me.' Sublime.  

(Dedicated to the community of Emanuel AME Church, S.C)