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Ma Rainey, Vol. 1 (1923-1924)

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Album Review

During the 1990s, archetypal early blues woman Ma Rainey's recorded legacy was made available on compact disc by several different companies. In 1994, Italy's King Jazz presented 94 titles on a four-CD "Mastertakes Collection." Not to be outdone, Jazzology/GHB's Black Swan label released a five-CDs set (as Ma Rainey: The Paramounts Chronologically) augmented with 16 little-known alternate takes for a total of 110 performances. Essentially the same expanded selection was packed onto five CDs by Austria's Document label under the heading of Complete Recorded Works. Curiously, many Ma Rainey reissues have focused upon her 1926-1928 period, leaving the 1923-1925 material on the back burners. That makes Volume One in the Complete Works on Document a highly rewarding experience, especially for those who've never had a chance to savor Rainey's earliest recorded performances. The first thing you'll notice is the marvelously expressive cornet playing of Tommy Ladnier, contemporaneous with that of Thomas Morris and a clear precedent for the style-setting techniques of Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams. Then there's Rainey's wonderfully expressive voice, which is pitched noticeably higher than it is on her later recordings. In addition to Ladnier, the clarinetist on her first session was Jimmy O'Bryant, and the pianist was Lovie Austin. "Lost Wandering Blues" and the magical "Dream Blues" (which feels a bit like 19th century folk music) have banjo and guitar accompaniments by Miles and Milas Pruitt; the Pruitt Twins are also believed to have backed her on the gutsy "Shave 'Em Dry Blues" and its flipside "Farewell, Daddy Blues." Tracks 13-20 find her again supported by Lovie Austin's Blues Serenaders, now expanded to a quartet by the addition of alto saxophonist Charles Harris. The extra take of Lovie Austin's "Ya-Da-Do" is a real treat, for this is one of the jazziest tunes that Ma Rainey ever took on.

Customer Reviews

True histroy

i wish i could go back in time and hear it clear. an amazing artist. "The Mother Of The Blues" gone but not forgotten.

Star of the past

You can hear the power and soul in her voice, no wonder she was a star of her time.


Born: April 26, 1886 in Columbus, GA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s

Ma Rainey wasn't the first blues singer to make records, but by all rights she probably should have been. In an era when women were the marquee names in blues, Rainey was once the most celebrated of all; the "Mother of the Blues" had been singing the music for more than 20 years before she made her recording debut (Paramount, 1923). With the advent of blues records, she became even more influential, immortalizing such songs as "See See Rider," "Bo-Weavil Blues," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Like...
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