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Odetta's brand of urban folk inspired countless '60s musicians, not to mention thousands of civil rights activists. Though she's best known for reviving old work songs and spirituals, Odetta is no stranger to the blues. Still, her 1962 album And the Blues marked the last time Odetta recorded the blues with a band.
Blues Everywhere I Go
is Odetta's first studio release in 14 years and one of the finest musical achievements of her long career. With 12 well-chosen covers and a few sterling originals, the album effectively communicates the hopes and fears of ordinary African-Americans during the first half of the 20th Century. With great songs written by Big Bill Broonzy, Sippie Wallace, Victory Spivey and others, it's a blues tableau every bit as engaging as a good movie.
It seems Odetta was born to revive these blues classics and forgotten gems. At age 70, she still sings passionately in a regal multi-octave voice that borrows a few stylistic tricks from pioneering female artists Bessie Smith and Alberta Hunter. An experienced performer with a theatrical presence, Odetta brings the right dose of emotion to each tune here. Credit also goes to ace pianist Seth Farber, crack guitarist Jimmy Vivino (from Conan O'Brien's show), and the assorted other musicians (including Dr. John) who provide excellent accompaniment. The players strike a nice instrumental balance between traditional and contemporary blues styles with a loose, live-in-the-studio performance that's primarily acoustic, but with subtle electric touches.
As writer Robert Gordon points out in his high-sounding liner notes, Blues Everywhere I Go is an atypical blues album because it's not about good times and partying (though it does have its raucous moments). Rather, it's about real-life situations confronted by blacks in the '20s, '30s and '40s. The fact that it was nominated for a Grammy won't mean squat to knowledgeable music fans, but for once this an album that deserved such acclaim.