Alice Moore / St. Louis Bessie

St. Louis Women, Vol. 2 (1934-41)

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Document's St. Louis Women, Vol. 2 follows the remaining chronologies of two little-known blues vocalists whose recordings might otherwise have continued to languish in obscurity. With 20 titles recorded between 1934 and 1937 for the Decca label, Alice Moore's worldliness and expressive voice compares well with that of Chicago's Lil Green, the post-WWII performer of songs like "Knockin' Myself Out" and "No Good Man." Alice Moore's music is as different as can be from smutty little party entertainments with naughty punch lines. Economic necessity led her to work as a prostitute during the mid-'20s. Her experiences in that challenging environment included unpleasant dealings with dishonest and misogynistic pimps, periodic nights in jail, humiliating courtroom appearances, a mandated visit to a streetwalker's clinic, and protracted prison time. This sobering context explains the captivating power of her vocal delivery, especially when she expresses her honest feelings about abusive, selfish men who sometimes become violent or even homicidal. She also sings of life as an underling in the racially delineated caste system that prevailed in the United States of America during the early- to mid-20th century and was still in evidence at the beginning of the 21st. "Black and Evil Blues," which this singer recorded so many times that it seems in retrospect to have been her theme song, communicates on many levels at once, touching upon the complexities of self-image, self-loathing, the puzzle of skin pigmentation, socially constructed and perpetually imposed notions of negritude, a toughness that was acquired and maintained in order to survive, and the mixed feelings of a good woman driven into a bad scene. As was the case with her 1929 Paramount recordings, the emotionally charged and colorfully textured trombone of Ike Rodgers proved to be the best imaginable counterpart for her disarmingly expressive voice. Other individuals who plied their instruments behind her on these records included violinist Artie Mosby; the legendary Peetie Wheatstraw, who handled both guitar and piano; guitarist Charley Jordan, and pianists Henry Brown, Jimmie Gordon, and Roosevelt Sykes. This fascinating album closes with four Okeh records dated January 21, 1941 and released under the name of Streamline Mae. Researchers and the producers of this compilation had good reason to believe that this was the very same woman heard on St. Louis Women, Vol. 1 as St. Louis Bessie Mae Smith. If it is she, the barrelhouse blues singer of the 1920s has adapted to more modern times with an updated approach, and the band behind her swings along in a more contemporary style. Conjecture has it that the piano player was Horace Malcolm and the guitarist was Big Bill Broonzy.

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