Odetta has been thrilling audiences in venues from church halls to Carnegie Hall for five decades. In 1969, the pop music writer Lilian Roxon wrote of Odetta " a voice so strong that every filling in your mouth aches when she hits her top notes." Odetta doesn't hit the high notes as often now but the Birmingham born artist holds the listener spellbound with her pure emotion. She has more emotion in her little finger than most people have in their entire body.
My "desert island record shelf" holds one of Odetta's earlier blues efforts from 1969 on Vanguard Records containing the wonderful "Hogan's Alley." This singer has been an influence on the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin. One of her foremost admirers is the legendary Pete Seeger.
The new CD for M.C.Records incorporates fifteen fabulous works by another legend of blues and folk music, Huddie Ledbetter or "Leadbelly." From "Rock Island Line" and "Midnight Special" to "How Long, How Long", Odetta grabs the listener and won't let go. I loved "Bourgeois Blues" which deals with the black experience in Washington, D.C. during the 30s. On "Boll Weevil", Odetta portrays the genuine sadness and desperation of the southern growers who were wiped out by the infamous insect. Other singers have treated the song humorously and with great success. Brook Benton's hit in the 60s is a prime example.
Backed by some strong musicians, the singer is able to stretch out ignoring the boundaries sometimes forced upon her by weaker groups. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown plays a fine violin solo on "Easy Rider" and harmonica player Kim Wilson of "The Fabulous Thunderbirds" plays his heart out on several tracks. Pianist, Seth Farber and guitarist Jimmy Vivino are standout performers. Odetta has always been very picky about drummers and Shawn Pelton and Richard Crooks proved to be great choices for this album. Guest pianist Henry Butler appears on "New Orleans" and "In The Pines."
Do I have any favorite tracks? Absolutely! Leadbelly once entertained the working girls of Shreveport's red light district with a tune titled "Roberta" and never failed to bring them to tears. Odetta's version may do the same for you. Other songs that really turned my crank were "Jim Crow Blues", "Boll Weevil", "You Don't Know My Mind" and a bluesy rendition of "Goodnight Irene." In short, this CD showcases a legend performing the works of an earlier legend. ONuff said! I love it. Release is scheduled for August 28th.