Best of Odetta

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Odetta, like so many other great American singers, discovered her voice in church, but she also has a background in theater, so when the folk revival hit with commercial force in the '60s, she knew exactly how to present her traditional material in concert for the greatest dramatic effect, a trait that made her a striking figure on the scene. Her studio recordings, too, brim with sincerity and power and underscore the fact that Odetta, much like Harry Belafonte before her, worked the artful end of folk song, interpreting to theatric taste rather than reproducing a facsimile of the source material, all of which made her a riveting and intellectually fulfilling performer. This two-disc set isn’t exactly “the best of Odetta,” but is instead two different albums paired together, 1998’s To Ella, which was recorded at a late-'90s performance at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and 1989’s Christmas Spirituals, which was later reissued and renamed Beautiful Star. Odetta was Odetta no matter what the situation, so even though it would be tough to argue that the best of her performances are collected here, this pairing still makes for a very pleasant and coherent listen.

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