Far too much has been written about Ma Rainey's physical appearance. Doubly damned by nitwit notions of glamour and racist stereotyping, Gertrude Rainey was unfairly ridiculed by her contemporaries and has been chided for not looking like Ethel Waters, Josephine Baker, or Billie Holiday ever since. In addition, the inferior sound quality of the records she cut for Paramount, the phonograph division of the Wisconsin Chair Company, from 1923 to 1928 has been a stumbling block for generations of listeners accustomed to the latest refinements in sound reproduction. Happily, with the 2005 release of Hustlin' Blues, 53 sides spanning Ma Rainey's entire recording career are now available in "digitally remastered" condition, meaning that the 78-rpm surface noise has been eliminated for the most part, and efforts have been made to modify the fidelity to the point where 21st century listeners who are conditioned by high-definition media will (it is hoped) not recoil. The songs are well chosen, and most of her best tunes are included here: "See See Rider," "Hear Me Talking to Ya," "Dream Blues," the very jazzy "Ya-Da-Do," and the famous "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Inevitably, certain important titles were not included. The omission of Lil Henderson's "Trust No Man," for example, is most unfortunate. Among the instrumentalists were young Louis Armstrong and other members of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra including saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, clarinetist Buster Bailey, and trombonist Big Charlie Green. As for her appearance, Gertrude Rainey needs to be appreciated as the beautiful woman that she was. Get yourself a good array of close-up photographs, find the one that's right for you, and stare intently into her eyes while she sings of love, life, and the human condition. Her approach to clothing and accessories was similar to that of Esther Bigeou from New Orleans, who sang on records with Clarence Williams and Armand J. Piron. Hustlin' Blues is a milestone in the re-appreciation of vintage African-American music, and of Ma Rainey's music in particular. All that remains is for the other half of her recorded legacy to be similarly cleaned up and issued on a sequel edition. If they do get around to it, the producers ought to pay closer attention to the correct presentation of song titles, at least five of which were botched on this edition. "Ma Rainey's Mystery Blues," for example, is really called "Ma Rainey's Mystery Record."
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2