Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Alberta Hunter

  • Amtrak Blues [Columbia, 1980] A
  • The Glory of Alberta Hunter [Columbia, 1982] A-
  • Look for the Silver Lining [Columbia, 1983] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Amtrak Blues [Columbia, 1980]
After the bland Remember My Name soundtrack, John Hammond's gem is a blessing--it would have been tragic if the rebirth of this eighty-five-year-old wonder of nature and history, easily the most authoritative classic blues singer alive, had been documented only in print. A hot rhythm section, anchored by pianist Gerald Cook and jazzed up by hornmen Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, and Frank Wess, pitch in with undeniable verve on material from "The Darktown Strutters' Ball" to "Always" to several worthy Hunter originals. Timing and intonation are as savvy as you'd figure, and though the voice isn't quite as full as it must have been, it packs an amazing wallop--when Hunter gloats about getting her butter churned, the memory sounds quite fresh, like maybe the dairy man poked his head in that morning. More good news--she'll be back in the studio with Hammond soon. A

The Glory of Alberta Hunter [Columbia, 1982]
It's a given that octogenarians like Sam Chatmon, Eubie Blake, even George Burns have more vitality than just about any singing war baby you care to name--they prove that by breathing. But life-begins-at-eighty isn't really Hunter's secret, except insofar as it deepens her wisdom, which isn't a given at all. It's not like Bessie Smith raising her voice among us, because Hunter is less titanic. But she spins her blues and gospel and pop with the spontaneous affection not just of somebody who never knew there was a difference between art and entertainment but of somebody who had the heart to leave show business and work as a nurse for twenty-three years. Her raunch ("You Can't Tell the Difference After Dark") is as unforced as her love of God ("Ezekiel Saw the Wheel") and her female indomitability ("I've Had Enough"), and her band plays even better than she sings. A-

Look for the Silver Lining [Columbia, 1983]
Since wonders of nature make bad records just like anyone else, what's amazing is that the flat writing, corny sentiment, and automatic mannerisms that bring this down barely touched the two before it. And don't be surprised if she celebrates her ninetieth by coming back yet again next time. B-