ALBERTA HUNTER: THE GLORY OF
1) Ezequiel Saw The Wheel; 2) I've Had Enough; 3) Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams; 4) Some Of These Days; 5) The Glory Of Love; 6) You Can't Tell The Difference After Dark; 7) I Love You Much Too Much; 8) I Cried For You; 9) The Love I Have For You; 10) Sometimes I'm Happy; 11) Give Me That Old Time Religion.
Amtrak Blues is the best known (and the only easily available) album from Alberta's later days, but, in fact, she really hits her second stride with The Glory, released but two years before her death. The difference may not be too crucial, but I believe I smell it — here is a singer that no longer feels even the least bit uncomfortable about being over 80, boosted by a new wave of public and critical success, re-accustomed once more to entertaining audiences and singing «into the can», as they used to say.
The Glory has a little bit of everything: blues, jazz, cabaret, schmaltz, even two gospel numbers that bookmark the record's two ends. The worst numbers — ballads whose sentimentalism obscures their melodic value — are still entertaining as retrothings, respectable if only for the performer's tenacity; and the best numbers are fun on their very own.
Unsurprisingly, the two major highlights are the ones on which Ms. Hunter gets real down and dirty: a re-recording of 'You Can't Tell The Difference After Dark', and 'I've Had Enough' which, to the best of my knowledge, was not a part of her previous studio repertoire. The former has, of course, acquired a triple entendre by now: 'I may not be so appealin', but I've got that certain feelin', she tells us with a little mix of pride and embarrassment, 'and you can't tell the difference after dark'. You bet your life we can't.
'I've Had Enough (Alberta's Blues)', in the meantime, gives us the toughest incarnation of Alberta Hunter ever found on any record of her career — you'd generally expect this kind of material from the likes of Big Mama Thornton. But she pulls it off splendidly, wrapping things up with an unforgettable coda of bye-byes to her brutal lover: 'goodbye, sayonara, au revoir, kalimera, auf Wiedersehen, bonne nuit... ah yeah — hasta la vista!.. ouch... get lost!' A little forced, perhaps, and she mispronounces kalimera as kalismera, but the main intention was to get us hooked and charmed, and she got us hooked and charmed.
That intention is so strong, in fact, that she even sings in Yiddish on one track ('I Love You Much Too Much'), and saves the album's most upbeat performances, the catchy vaudeville of 'Sometimes I'm Happy' and the breakneck gospel trance of 'Give Me That Old Time Religion', for last. Perhaps these songs will not linger too long in anybody's memory, but the point is, as long as the record is playing, you sense a feeling of ecstasy, a "wow, now here is someone who really enjoys living and gets a true kick out of it!" reaction. Then you realize that «someone» is 87 years old, and that you have just been shown a standard of living that you yourself will never ever be able to reach — but at least you have some sort of ideal to aspire to.
For this ray of optimism and bout of enthusiasm, the perfectly titled Glory Of Alberta Hunter gets a glorious thumbs up. She had the time to record one more LP — Look For The Silver Lining (1983), unfortunately, almost impossible to find — before finally kicking it in 1984, but I am pretty sure that, whatever her current occupation in Paradise is, it has little to do with nursing. Bet my own salvation that God can't tell much difference after dark, either.