Picks and Pans Review: Amtrak Blues

updated 07/28/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Alberta Hunter

Her voice is lower than in her prime, when she played opposite Paul Robeson in Show Boat in London and wrote Bessie Smith's first hit, Down Hearted Blues. It also has, understandably, frayed a bit at the edges. But at 85, Hunter has lost none of her wit, self-assurance, swing or passion. This album is her second since she resumed singing in 1977 after 20 years working as a nurse in a New York hospital. In 1978 she wrote and sang the sound track for the movie Remember My Name. Alberta's frequent exhortations to her band to "Play it! Talk to me!" do not go unheeded: Pianist Gerald Cook, veteran trombonist Vic Dickenson and former Ellington reed man Norris Turney, in particular, provide excitement and sensitivity reminiscent of Billie Holiday's collaborations with Lester Young, Teddy Wilson and Chu Berry. The treats include rollicking versions of Always and Sweet Georgia Brown, James P. Johnson's poignant Old Fashioned Love and Eubie Blake's My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More, which brings out Hunter's saucy humor. Her charm grows naturally from her philosophy, which she states on one of three spunky blues she wrote herself: "I'm having a fiesta while I'm living/'Cause tomorrow I may die/That's why I'm having a ball today/ I ain't passing nothing by."

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