SITTING & THINKING - Odetta's First Album
Wed Jun 5 15:08:57 EDT 1996
SINGS BALLADS AND BLUES
This is more than just a disk full of heavenly music. It is a
historical document. This is Odetta's first album, one that
burst upon music scene of 1956 like an Independence Day fireworks
display. Born in Birmingham Alabama at the beginning of the
1930s, she grew up in California where she received several years
of operatic training and broke into show business playing in
Finian's Rainbow, where she undoubtedly got to work with Sonny
Terry who was also featured in the cast. Odetta was one of the
earliest giants of the folk boom. This album moved a generation
of young people to learn the acoustic guitar and sing songs
from the great depression and before. Odetta's powerful alto is
a great salesperson for the old songs. Only six of the 18 songs
she sings here are given authorship credit, and two of them are
credited to historians John and Alan Lomax. Bob Dylan has said
more than once that it was Odetta that caused him to become a
folk singer and that he learned every song on this album. The
music has been "sonically cleansed" for new generations to
discover on compact disk.
SANTY ANNO / IF I HAD A RIBBON BOW / MULESKINNER BLUES / ANOTHER
MAN DONE GONE / SHAME AND SCANDAL / JACK O' DIAMONDS / 'BUKED
AND SCORNED / EASY RIDER / JOSHUA / HOUND DOG / GLORY, GLORY /
ALABAMA BOUND / BEEN IN THE PEN / DEEP BLUE SEA / GOD'S GONNA CUT
YOU DOWN / SPIRITUAL TRILOGY
SANTY ANNO: Odetta sets out with a sailing song. Strumming out
powerful chords on her guitar, she belts out a song about a group
of adventurers that set out from Liverpool and sail around Cape
Horn to get to San Francisco where's there plenty of gold. At
the time this album was made Odetta was the darling of the San
Francisco night clubs and this song must have been a real crowd
IF I HAD A RIBBON BOW: Picking notes quietly on the guitar,
Odetta slows down and sings a quiet ballad of longing. The
singer is a poor girl who in lacking only a few garments, feels
she is cordoned off from high society. Here Odetta's operatic
training can be detected.
MULESKINNER BLUES: This song was a staple of folk singers in the
50s, but Odetta was probably the only woman to attempt it.
Unabashedly taking a male point of view, she sings full throated
lines like "I got three women waiting on a Saturday night just to
draw my pay." An unidentified bass player supports Odetta's
hearty guitar attack. The singer has been working on the
railroad, but is ready for a change of scenery and offers the
"Captain" his services to drive a group of mules across the
ANOTHER MAN DONE GONE: A haunting prison song. Odetta sets the
guitar down and in a deep throated lament tells of an anonymous
prisoner who fell at the hands of abusive jailors. The only
other sound on this song is the mournful clapping of her hands.
SHAME AND SCANDAL: In a heavy Jamaican accent, Odetta has a lot
of fun singing a Caribbean folk song. The story concerns a
Dutchman living on the island of San Sebastian who had a native
woman for a wife. She fell in love with the Dutchman's brother
and attempted to run off with him, but was caught and had to
inflict a voodoo death on her husband.
JACK O' DIAMONDS: Here's a lovely rollicking gambling blues.
Gambling has destroyed many a person, a temptation as destructive
as alcohol. "Put your Jack on the Queen, it will turn your money
green" Odetta sings in a voice dripping with sarcasm. The
mysterious bass player returns to enhance this number.
'BUKED AND SCORNED: Odetta uses her operatic voice here as she
gently strums the guitar, singing a song of social protest. It's
gentle lyrics with its message of hope for the future was a
powerful message to the emerging Civil Rights movement of the
EASY RIDER: A blues credited to Leadbelly, but as old as the
blues itself. Odetta's great rendition is underlined by the fact
that the song works better from a woman's point of view. Odetta
sings with a desperate edge to her voice, as if she is at her
wits end with all the bad luck she has seen.
JOSHUA: Odetta gives this old spiritual new vitality with her
spirited rendition. Those walls surely came tumbling down in the
50s and Odetta was at the front with her powerful fingers hitting
all the right chords.
HOUND DOG: A haunting blues given a compelling treatment by
Odetta. Sung in a lazy moan, Odetta tells of a life where just
everything has gone wrong. She begins with the startling
statement that "God did forsake us" and continues with a catalog
of all her problems, such as the well's gone dry and the chickens
won't lay. All that's left for her is to watch her hound dog bay
at the moon.
GLORY, GLORY: THis is the familiar spiritual "When I Burden Down"
sung acapella. Odetta sings softly and with great reverence.
It's almost more a prayer than a song.
ALABAMA BOUND: This is a great train blues. Her guitar emulating
the rolling of the big wheels racing down the steel rails, Odetta
plans her escape to a better life. As the shortest song on the
album, barely a minute and a half, it is over far too soon.
BEEN IN THE PEN: Odetta sings this prison blues in her bottom
register. The singer has broken out of prison due to loneliness
to see his woman. He knows he's going to be heading right back,
but he'll risk anything to see his New Orleans woman if even just
DEEP BLUE SEA: This one is a lullaby. As she describes a death
at sea, she is singing gently and soothingly. You can
practically see the baby in her arms being rocked to the time of
GOD'S GONNA CUT YOU DOWN: Odetta sings this moving spiritual
without her guitar. Standing in the pulpit, Odetta explains that
you may think you can get away with your sins, but sooner or
later you will meet divine judgement.
SPIRITUAL TRILOGY: Odetta closes this amazing initial recording
with three spirituals: "Oh Freedom," "Come and Go With Me," and
"I'm on my Way." Over six minutes, by far the longest track on
the disk, Odetta is given a chance to show how she can shift
gears as she is singing and playing so seamlessly you have to be
paying strict attention to catch the transition. The first part
of the trilogy declares the freedom from slavery that exists in
heaven. The second part she exhorts everyone to come with her on
the path to this freedom. The last part she is joyously on her
way to the land of freedom.
Reviewed by Toby Levy
Copyright NY CD Blues - 1996
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