Various Artists

Women of the Blues

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Is there any uglier record cover in existence than this one? Nobody would want to be the judge in that type of contest. What with a lineup of eight female blues recording artists from the '20s and '30s, there must have been some sort of photography that would have looked better than the atrocious design the label wound up with. Perhaps the notion was that any consumer who would go to the trouble to seek out recordings by lesser-known blues vocalists wouldn't care if the sides came wrapped in old newsprint (which would have looked better, mind you). One of these artists continued her recording career well past the release of this compilation in the late '60s, Alberta Hunter. Her nightclub and recording career blossomed in the ensuing decades, and as a result, she can be regarded as the most famous singer of this bunch. What makes her recordings from 1927 doubly rewarding is that her lone backup comes from Fats Waller seated behind a pipe organ, an image with more potential for adventure than Buck Rogers at the controls of his rocketship. The Waller dementia seems to go up a notch further at the odd points in his career when he got near pipe organs. These two duets are so astounding that they threaten to drown out the memory of anything else on this album. Nonetheless, there is some musical competition as several of the studio bands assembled for these sessions contain hot players. A threesome of New Orleans guys creates magic behind Sippie Wallace, namely clarinetist Johnny Dodds, trombonist Honore Dutrey, and Natty Dominique on cornet. The Monette Moore songs contain some early playing from the sharp trumpeter Rex Stewart, while the Victoria Spivey tracks bring together a roomful of classic jazz soloists such as Henry "Red" Allen on trumpet, J.C. Higginbotham on trombone, and Albert Nicholas on clarinet. The classic female blues style always veered toward the jazzier side of the highway, which makes the performances by Margaret Johnson particularly special. She is backed by piano, guitar, and harmonica, representing a typical country blues backup for this era, which is complimented by her raunchy vocal style. Both her performances are good, but "Dead Drunk Blues" is a real winner, as well as yet another addition to the long list of fine blues recordings on the subject of being totally inebriated. Lizzie Miles has one of the better voices of this bunch, but the material she is provided with by Andy Razaf is about as trite as it gets.

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