Odetta's first studio recording for 14 years shows that she's still in fine voice even after 50 years in show business. A classically trained singer, Odetta has been an influential figure in American culture for several years. This fact was recently recognized with the award of a National Medal of the Arts.
"Blues Everywhere I Go" mainly comprises songs dating back to the 1920's and 1930's. For the most part the songs are drawn from the repertoires of several influential Blues women: Ma Rainey, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie. The key to the success of the album, though, is Odetta's voice. Overall, the arrangements reflect the period in which the songs were written. The sound remains contemporary, however, and the pace is fairly relaxed throughout.
The songs may be several years old, but the messages they contain often remains as relevant today as it was then. The medley of Sippie Wallace's "Trouble Everywhere" and Brownie McGhee's "I'm Living With Blues", for example, reflects a situation that lies below the glossy surface of many Western societies. Similarly, "Rich Man Blues" (after Bessie Smith) and "Unemployment Blues" (Ma Rainey) also tell tales of enduring social concerns.
"Look The World Over" (written Memphis Minnie's third husband, Ernest Lawler) is the best track, highlighting the harmony between Odetta and the band. Porter Grainger's "Homeless Blues" and Ma Rainey's "Hear Me Talking To You" also merit special mention. Seth Farber does a good job on piano, whilst Jimmy Vivino is outstanding on guitar on the latter track.
It is a testament to the successful marriage of Odetta's singing with the sympathetic accompaniment of the band that the album sounds so coherent, especially given the diversity of material they cover. Indeed, the only song that doesn't really work is the arrangement of Percy Mayfield's classic "Please Send Me Someone To Love" where Dr. John helps out on piano and vocals. Odetta's vocals sounds a bit too operatic in places, starkly contrasting with Dr. John's laid back delivery, and detracting from the song's overall feel. The other collaboration with Dr. John ("Oh Papa") works out just fine, however.
Odetta was, and still is, an influential artist. "Blues Everywhere I Go" is a very good example of her extensive talents as a singer. It also stands as a tribute to many of the artists that have influenced her throughout her singing career. If you don't have any of Odetta's works in your collection--and you should--"Blues Everywhere I Go" is a good place to start.
MC Records: www.mc-records.com
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.