Odetta in Concert
Hugh's Room, Toronto, Ontario
The Alabama Queen of the coffee house folk-blues scene has wooed her audience by her mere presence. Odetta gave a superb performance at Hugh’s Room on Saturday, March 25, 2006. When I received her CD, ‘Gonna Let it Shine’ several months ago, I felt a need to hear Odetta live. I figured the powerhouse vox on the CD must be absolutely sound blowing live. I was not disappointed. After checking out Odetta last night, all I can say is if this DIVA of blues/folk can belt those tunes and present an aura of sexiness at age 74, we all have plenty of time and no excuses to not do the same.
Hugh’s Room was jam packed with minimal standing room available for tardees. Having never heard Odetta live I was not sure what to expect and when she came on stage I wondered if I was in the right place. The photo on the CD cover and the vox gave me the impression of a large woman ready to blow the house down. What I saw instead, was this petite fragile-looking woman. I was so wrong.
Odetta opened her mouth and I was taken aback. She spoke with such a strong and empowering voice and I could feel her steal everyone’s attention and yet she had not even begun to sing. She already owned the room. Needless to say, she kept us in her attention from her first song, Let it Shine to the end where she once again repeats her opening song. The audience could not help but sing along.
The music selection included other material such as You Don’t Know My Mind, Country Blues, Burgeois Blues, The Poor Man’s Blues, and many other tunes. Lyrics spun from ‘I know I can make it know you done me wrong…’ and ‘You can make me do what you want me to but you gotta know how,’ and ‘When the jury finds you guilty.’ Her themes included politics, education, racism, poverty, slavery and yes, even romance. Her style was her own.
I could hear Bessie Smith and many other great blues women in her voice but then Odetta owned every song she sang as it were her own. She received three standing ovations – four if you count the last one as she left and no longer returned for the encore. Who knew that such a voice was hidden in her gentle frame. Regardless, her aura grasped attention.
Like many great artists, the recording never does justice. The CD got my attention, the woman won me over. She returned to the stage for the last standing ovation and sang The House of the Rising Sun — a song that I’ve sung many times but not like this — an a capella medley. The woman is the definition of ‘Diva.’.
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