Bessie Smith


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For sheer power, substance and depth, there is nothing in the world quite like the voice of Bessie Smith. Any portion of her recorded legacy can be rewarding if the listener takes the time to contemplate the interplay between singer and accompanists while the theatrical tale of each song unfurls itself. This particular grouping of 24 recordings made between October 1923 and August 1924 reveals a visceral young woman on her way to completely dominating the scene as the definitive female blues singer of the 1920s. One of the great delights in studying Smith's music is the science of paying attention to her backing instrumentalists. Fletcher Henderson, who accompanied so many blues vocalists throughout the early '20s, sounds like he's in perfect accord with the singer on "Any Woman's Blues." Teamed with Don Redman on six titles, Henderson blows on a siren whistle during the "Haunted House Blues," causing Smith to holler "Lord, help us to get right!" Harry Reser, banjo/guitar ace and leader of various hunky-dory novelty groups including the Cliquot Club Eskimos, appears twice on this CD, providing exceptionally fine accompaniment and incidentally doing his part to break up the color line six years before Eddie Condon recorded with a racially mixed group for Victor. The disc finishes off with four selections featuring trombonist Big Charlie Green, arguably the most sympathetic instrumentalist that Smith ever worked with.

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