Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Blues mining

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Odetta. Even her name demands respect. Odetta has been performing for 50 years. Fifty. One of the guiding lights in the folk boom of the early ’60s, Odetta performed a distinctive brand of gospel-folk-blues with regal authority. Her husky voice was perfect for such grassroots epics as Pete Seeger’s "If I Had a Hammer," as well as such gospel traditionals as "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" and "Midnight Special." A forceful artist who influenced Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman and contemporary performers Jewel and Cassandra Wilson, Odetta’s persona has always been proud and true.

While she has mined great African-American traditions, including work songs and gospel, Odetta’s latest album captures her singing the blues. Naturally, Odetta’s blues are imbued with dignity and courage rather than grief. Gathering songs made famous by such blues matriarchs as Sippie Wallace, Ma Rainey, Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith, Odetta sings with an easy confidence and bold passion.

Accompanied by hotshot guitarist Jimmy Vivino and Dr. John’s barrelhouse piano, she touches the human side of compositions such as Leadbelly’s "Careless Love" and Big Bill Broonzy’s "W.P.A. Blues." Her vocal duet with Dr. John on "Please Send Me Someone To Love" is as yearning and bittersweet as the blues can be.

While not a blues mama in the strictest sense, Odetta has plenty of bite in her voice as she leads us all through the blues of ages.

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