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Blues - Released May 7, 1957 | Everest Records

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Blues - Released September 20, 2019 | M.C. Records

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Folk/Americana - Released August 6, 1965 | RCA Camden

From 1965, Odetta Sings Dylan was one of the first albums entirely devoted to Bob Dylan interpretations, and one of the best. In part that's because the concept was still actually fresh then; in fact, other than an obscure 1964 album by Linda Mason, it was the very first album of Dylan covers. And in part it was because, unlike most of the artists who would take a swing at the concept, Odetta was actually a major folk musician, one who had done much to inspire Dylan himself. But most of all, it was because the arrangements were excellent, featuring the guitar of Bruce Langhorne (who, of course, played on Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home and numerous 1960s folk and folk-rock recordings) and, one presumes, the bass of frequent accompanist Bill Lee (though the CD doesn't list session credits). Langhorne, the character who inspired "Mr. Tambourine Man," also plays some tambourine, particularly on "Baby, I'm in the Mood for You." Although this is not a folk-rock album, as a result the arrangements have far more rhythm, swing, and imagination than most folk records of the era did. The song choices are good, too, not only including familiar tunes like "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Mr. Tambourine Man," but also some songs that hardly anyone has recorded. Indeed, Dylan never did put "Long Ago, Far Away" or "Long Time Gone" on any of his official releases, and didn't release three of the other songs ("Baby, I'm in the Mood for You," "Walkin' Down the Line," and "Tomorrow Is a Long Time") in the 1960s. All of this is not to overlook Odetta's well-nuanced, bluesy vocal interpretations of the material, particularly on an extraordinary ten-minute version of "Mr. Tambourine Man." The 2000 CD reissue on Camden adds "Blowin' in the Wind" (from a 1963 album) and "Paths of Victory" (from a 1964 LP) as bonus tracks, nice additions that are stylistically consistent with the rest of the recording. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

If any female vocalist should be compared to Leadbelly, it's Odetta. Like Leadbelly, Odetta has long had one foot in folk and the other in the blues. The singer did some of her most compelling work for Vanguard in the '60s, and her Vanguard output is the focus of Livin' With The Blues. Released in 2000, this collection focuses on Odetta's Vanguard recordings of the early '60s and paints a consistently attractive picture of her artistry. Most of the songs on this CD (which contains material from the albums Odetta at Town Hall, My Eyes Have Seen, and One Grain of Sand, along with a few rarities) don't actually have a 12-bar blues format -- this is essentially a folk collection, but it's a folk collection that never loses the feeling of the blues. Whether Odetta accompanies herself on acoustic guitar on "Jumpin' Judy," "Rambler Gambler," and "Bald Headed Woman," or becomes a piano-playing vocalist on performances of "House of the Rising Sun" and "Lovin' With The Blues," the earthy, big-voiced singer provides a wealth of blues feeling throughout this superb collection. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Blues - Released December 1, 1970 | Universal (MT)

When Bob Dylan released Street Legal using horns, choirs, and hordes of session musicians, the result gave an idea of how tired he was, and Odetta Sings seems to be the result of similar situation, including tiredness and lack of new ideas. Most of the tracks are covers, the original artists ranging from Elton John to James Taylor, made into R&B. The band is as distinguished as can be expected, including Merry Clayton on vocals, and, at times, the groove and the gospel feeling gives a hint of the Staple Singers, but often it sounds just like the slightly pompous soulified pop that would haunt arena concerts throughout the '70s when the artists of the previous decade ran out of creativity. And it is uncertain if it's merit that Odetta took on this style before it became really popular. Only two songs are written by Odetta herself, "Hit or Miss" and "Movin' It On," which is a shame since they are by far the best tracks of the album. Odetta's deep, dark, warm voice distinguishes her from most soul singers, and these two songs give an idea of what it could have sounded like had she decided to release a real soul album -- an album without one single Paul McCartney song. © Lars Lovén /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released July 31, 2015 | RCA - Legacy

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Blues - Released May 7, 1957 | Everest Records

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Blues - Released January 1, 1991 | Fantasy Records

Odetta earned her rep singing traditional folk in the mid-'50s before the American folk revival got underway with the Kingston Trio and "Tom Dooley" in 1958. Unlike many of her contemporaries, however, she had a habit of going her own way from time to time. One of Odetta's most interesting deviations from straight folk, and one that caused a bit of contention among her more conservative contemporaries, was Odetta and the Blues, released by Riverside in 1962. Drawing from classic female blues singers like Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, and Ma Rainy, she traded in her acoustic guitar for a six-piece jazz band featuring trumpeter Buck Clayton, trombonist Vic Dickenson, clarinetist Herb Hall, pianist Dick Wellstood, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and drummer Shep Shepherd. The results are so convincing that if one didn't know who Odetta was or what time period she sang in, it would be easy to believe she had been a classic blues singer. From the upbeat New Orleans jazz of "Believe I'll Go" to the down-home blues of "Oh, My Babe," Odetta and the Blues is a fun, inspired, and surprising album. Odetta gives full range to her magnificent voice, providing a fresh makeover to old favorites like "Yonder Comes the Blues," while trumpet, trombone, and clarinet work offers lively, vivacious accompaniment. In many ways, Odetta and the Blues isn't the typical Odetta album, but it is an excellent portrait of an artist who refused to be boxed in by the assumed aesthetic of her time. © Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr. /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released December 31, 1963 | RCA - Legacy

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Folk/Americana - Released December 17, 1964 | RCA Victor

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Blues - Released January 1, 2006 | Tradition Records

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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Odetta's husky voice is often stunning, both in her a cappella performances and her songs with accompaniment. She says these songs are traditional spirituals, neither purely African nor American, but songs that emerged from the sufferings of slavery. Powerful stuff. © Dennis MacDonald /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released March 1, 2007 | Essential Media Group

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Pop - Released May 7, 1956 | Everest Records

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Pop - Released October 31, 2014 | Legacy Recordings

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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Odetta began recording in the mid-'50s but her best known work (and easiest to find) is from her early-'60s stay with Vanguard Records, the period that this introductory compilation is drawn from, and these clear, uncluttered and focused tracks make a fine introduction to this dedicated singer. Odetta, like so many other great American singers, discovered her voice in church, but she also has a background in theater, so when the folk revival hit with commercial force in the '60s, she knew exactly how to present her traditional material in concert for the greatest dramatic effect, a trait that made her a striking figure on the scene. These recordings brim with sincerity and power and underscore the fact that Odetta, much like Harry Belafonte before her, works the artful end of folk song, interpreting to theatric taste rather than reproducing a facsimile of the source material. She remains a riveting and intellectually fulfilling performer, all of which comes through in this anthology. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released June 24, 2008 | Essential Media Group

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Blues - Released January 1, 2001 | M.C. Records

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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Concord Vanguard

By the time the independent folk label Vanguard Records got around to releasing its sixth Odetta album, One Grain of Sand, in 1963, the singer had already decamped to RCA Victor and released her major-label debut, Sometimes I Feel Like Cryin', in 1962. But One Grain of Sand is not just a collection of outtakes assembled to fulfill a contract and take revenge on a departed artist. It finds Odetta accompanying herself as usual on acoustic guitar and joined by Bill Lee on string bass, putting her inimitable stamp on a good set of traditional folk songs along with numbers associated with Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. She also brings in spirituals, blues, and even country on a cover of "Cool Water." But, given her distinctive vocal approach, every song from every genre becomes an Odetta song, with her contralto finding unusual depths of feeling in even the lighter fare. It might be argued that, in the early '60s, partially because of record company machinations, Odetta had a glut of LPs in release. But when even a minor one displays such quality, it's hard to complain. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Pop - Released August 19, 2016 | Tradition Records