Odetta is one of those older blues women who get a ridiculous amount of press over their concert events or albums, and come through with a slightly less than mind numbing performance. This is certainly true of her latest album, which is being hyped as if she were the second coming of Big Mama Thornton. In actuality, Odetta gives out very little of the energy needed to keep down-tempo blues eventful and entertaining.
The album begins with its title track, a medium-paced 12-bar blues that never hits a high or low point in volume or intensity. The dynamics that follow throughout the record are similarly flat, and make for a very uninteresting listen. Beyond a single song, “Unemployment Blues,” there never seems to be a concerted effort to keep the listener completely awake, let alone excited about the music being played. The drumming is dull blues drumming with very little invention, and the bass playing suffers from similar typicality. The piano and keyboard parts are sometimes fun, (especially on the two tracks featuring Dr. John,) and the guitar playing is consistently hip, (thanks to Jimmy Vivino of Late Night’s Max Weinberg 7,) but neither helps jump start the album out of the rut it falls into almost immediately.
As for Odetta’s voice, I can definitely see why many credit her with influencing Cassandra Wilson. I never got into Cassandra Wilson, mostly because of her growlingly low and painfully bland voice. Odetta’s vocal style is similarly plain. It would be easy to just say her voice was soulful or distinguished, but the truth of the matter is, listening to Odetta’s voice is about as exciting as listening to paint dry. Think about that.
As a whole, one shouldn’t avoid Odetta completely. She offers an interesting look into the roots of the female blues vocals, but the arrangements she chooses to use on this album are so standardized that the SAT board should consider calling arranger Seth Farber for advice. It is mostly because of this that I would not recommend this album to anyone who isn’t already a fan of Odetta, or possibly Cassandra Wilson.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/odetta-blues/