Ronnie Gilbert

In Hi-Fi: The Legend of Bessie Smith

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Ronnie Gilbert was best-known as one of the vocalists in the folk group the Weavers. Her one-and-only jazz LP was this long-out-of-print, but valuable, tribute to Bessie Smith. Gilbert sounds both respectful and spirited throughout the dozen numbers (all but "Black Eye Blues" and "Trouble in Mind" were originally recorded by Smith) and, although not imitating the Empress of the Blues, she recaptures the spirit of her style quite well. The backup group is particularly strong and gives one a rare chance to hear trumpeter Cootie Williams (a few years before he rejoined Duke Ellington) in this type of vintage blues setting. Also in the band are trombonist Benny Morton, clarinetist Buster Bailey (who had actually recorded with Bessie Smith), pianist Claude Hopkins, bassist George Duvivier, drummer Osie Johnson and one of three guitarists. Highlights include "You've Been a Good Old Wagon," "After You've Gone," "Trombone Cholly" and "Empty Bed Blues." This gem is long overdue to be reissued by RCA.