Odetta earned her rep singing traditional folk in the mid-'50s before the American folk revival got underway with the Kingston Trio and "Tom Dooley" in 1958. Unlike many of her contemporaries, however, she had a habit of going her own way from time to time. One of Odetta's most interesting deviations from straight folk, and one that caused a bit of contention among her more conservative contemporaries, was Odetta and the Blues, released by Riverside in 1962. Drawing from classic female blues singers like Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, and Ma Rainy, she traded in her acoustic guitar for a six-piece jazz band featuring trumpeter Buck Clayton, trombonist Vic Dickenson, clarinetist Herb Hall, pianist Dick Wellstood, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and drummer Shep Shepherd. The results are so convincing that if one didn't know who Odetta was or what time period she sang in, it would be easy to believe she had been a classic blues singer. From the upbeat New Orleans jazz of "Believe I'll Go" to the down-home blues of "Oh, My Babe," Odetta and the Blues is a fun, inspired, and surprising album. Odetta gives full range to her magnificent voice, providing a fresh makeover to old favorites like "Yonder Comes the Blues," while trumpet, trombone, and clarinet work offers lively, vivacious accompaniment. In many ways, Odetta and the Blues isn't the typical Odetta album, but it is an excellent portrait of an artist who refused to be boxed in by the assumed aesthetic of her time.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.