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Monday, December 21, 2009

Alberta Hunter: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 4


ALBERTA HUNTER: COMPLETE RECORDED WORKS VOL. 4 (1927-c. 1946)

1) Sugar; 2) Beale Street Blues; 3) I'm Going To See My Ma; 4) Gimme All The Love You Got; 5) My Particular Man; 6) Driftin' Tide; 7) You Can't Tell The Difference After Dark; 8) Second Hand Man; 9) Send Me A Man; 10) Chirpin' The Blues; 11) Downhearted Blues; 12) I'll See You Go; 13) Fine And Mellow; 14) Yelping Blues; 15) Some­day, Sweetheart; 16) The Love I Have For You; 17) My Castle's Rockin'; 18) Boogie-Woogie Swing; 19) I Won't Let You Down; 20) Take Your Big Hands Off; 21) He's Got A Punch Like Joe Louis.

Unlike so many other blues queens, Alberta Hunter did not have her career seriously cut down by the Depression, because even in her prime she would not have too many recordings, and by 1927, sessions had all but ended, with the lady embarking on a lengthy revue trip to Europe and, then, eventually and gradually, shifting to other lines of duty (such as troop entertaining) and, after the war, going to nursing school and engaging in healthcare.

Paradoxically, it is exactly this career fluctuation that makes Vol. 4 into the most intri­guing and diverse unit in the series. It has no big hits or classics and represents a patchwork of scattered ses­sions, with much of the material even remaining unreleased for half a century and some of it with uncertain recording dates. But, with improving recording technologies, her singing has never be­en clearer and cleaner, and her vaudeville repertoire never as variegated.

The real gem here are the first three songs, from a 1927 session where Alberta is backed by Fats Waller on organ — a pretty exotic arrangement for the time, and she rises to the task admirably, particularly on 'Sugar', where she faithfully tries to sound like sugar herself, and her sucrosey notes, meshing with Waller's virtuoso playing and creaky old production, yield a truly phantas­magoric effect. (Especially knockout-like if you hear it after playing the previous three volumes one after the other with no breaks.)

The second gem is a long-lost New York session from 1935, on which she is backed by piano and very prominent acoustic guitar, resulting in a Lonnie Johnson kind of sound; the highlight is 'Driftin' Tide', more of a crooner than anything blues-like in form, but with Hunter's blues sensi­tivity replacing the croon. Different, but likable.

Later sessions, from 1939 and the early 1940s, are even more of a hodge-podge: traditional blues, whitebread ballads, early boogie-woogie, whatever works. Complete is not quite the right word for it, seeing as how no material from her European sessions is present, but it is debatable whe­ther the latter holds any importance (she used to record straightforward pop material with Jack Jackson's orchestra). As for these late numbers, none of them were hits, but who cares? From 1921 to 1946, there's really only two types of Alberta Hunter records: the good ones are those that you can hear and the bad ones are those that you cannot, and — technological progress be blessed — on this volume, there are no bad ones.

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