Bessie Smith

Empress of the Blues: Collectors Edition

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In 1994 the Charly budget label came out with one of the very best single-disc Bessie Smith collections in this archetypal blues singer's entire discography. Song for song, "Empress of the Blues" succeeds where the 1996 Jazz Archives collection Bessie Smith Sings the Jazz fell short of its intended goal. That's because the jazz element is so strongly represented here, with members of the Fletcher Henderson band supporting her in the presentation of essential classic jazz numbers like "St. Louis Blues," "Careless Love," "Yellow Dog Blues," "New Orleans Hop Scop Blues," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." The interplay between the singer and trombonist Big Charlie Green on the "Empty Bed Blues" is one of the great chemistries in all of recorded blues. In addition to her unforgettable reading of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," this excellent Bessie Smith compilation contains some of her greatest hedonistic achievements. These include her beautiful rendering of Fats Waller's "Squeeze Me" and gutsy wonders like "Do Your Duty," "Take Me for a Buggy Ride," "Gimme a Pigfoot," and "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair." A surprisingly superb choice that works even better when paired with Charly's sequel Bessie Smith collection, Beale Street Mama.

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