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Our friends over at Wears The Trousers have put together a rather lovely compilation in tribute to the great singer and songwriter Odetta, featuring performances from Marissa Nadler, Kelli Ali and Ane Brun.
The 16-track package, released on 30th November, will be available to buy on WTT and all profits will go to charities The Fawcett Society and The Women’s Resource Centre.
Odetta was called ‘The Queen of American folk music’ bu Martin Luther King and Bob Dylan said: “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta”
Here’s WTT editor Alan Pedder with a track-by-track guide to the album:
Linda Draper – ‘Sail Away Ladies’
This was the first song to come in for the album, just a couple of weeks after I’d sent out the first wave of invitations. Linda recorded the track on New Year’s Eve with her friend Rob Woodcock on double bass and Major Matt Mason behind the mixing desk, and sent the final version to me a couple of days later. From the very first listen, I knew it would make a great album opener. Light, fluffy and fun, it has a playful bounce that pulls you in, the bassline delivering an irresistible kinetic urge to the feet, and a distinctive vocal that’s really hard not to sing along to. Also, it features Linda’s harmonica playing debut. History in the making.
Ane Brun – ‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’
I’m always blown away whenever I see Ane Brun play live, so when she performed ‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ at her Union Chapel show in May this year, it pretty much made my life. It was in the same venue a couple of months earlier that I had asked her whether she would be interested in recording the song for our tribute. I had a strong instinct that this was the ideal song for her voice and was delighted when she agreed to record it, saying that she’d fallen in love with the melody. Tobias Fröberg added some churchy Hammond organ to make it even more perfect, and that was that
Gemma Ray – ‘900 Miles’
I actually had nothing to do with this, it just fell into our laps fully formed. And just at the right time too, giving the album a boost of energy. Gemma originally recorded this song for the soundtrack to a BBC horror film and later released it as the B-side to her single ‘100 MPH (In 2nd Gear) ‘. She was only too happy to let us borrow it for our album. Thanks Gemma!
Anaïs Mitchell – ‘All My Trials’
One of my favourite traditional folk songs, previously recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Nick Drake ,Peter Paul & Mary and Cerys Matthews, ‘All My Trials’ makes two appearances on our tribute. That wasn’t intentional but works out beautifully as the two versions convey very different moods. Anaïs Mitchell’s wonderfully supple and expressive voice gives this version a plaintive yet clear-eyed sense of purpose. It was recorded just before she headed out on a lengthy tour with label boss Ani DiFranco, whose Righteous Babe Records should be releasing Anaïs’s long-awaited folk opera soundtrack The Music From Hadestown at some point in the not too distant future, featuring additional vocals from Ani D, Greg Brown and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Haunted Stereo – ‘Santy Anno’
This was an early addition to the album and a very special one as Haunted Stereo is the musical outlet of longtime Wears The Trousers contributor Anja McCloskey. Based in Southampton, this six-piece, multi-vocalist band have released a series of acclaimed EPs over the last year and are definitely ones to watch. Chosen by the band because Odetta’s simple guitar track lends itself so well to extrapolation to a full band sound, this version of ‘Santy Anno’ comes alive with a chugging acoustic guitar riff, violin, glockenspiel, mandolin, organ, drums, bass and joyous, layered vocals. An alternative version of ‘Santy Anno’ appears on the band’s latest EP, Cross The Sea, out November 30th through Sotones Records.
Madam – ‘Waterboy’
This was the last song to be recorded for the album. Madam’s Sukie Smith had heard about the Odetta tribute on the grapevine and was keen to take part. No Odetta tribute could really be complete without a version of ‘Waterboy’, and it just so happened to be one of Sukie’s favourites, so things went from there. Madam fans may be surprised by how stripped back and different ‘Waterboy’ is from the songs to be found on Sukie’s debut album In Case Of Emergency. Delivered with a powerful vocal that’s a cappella in parts and buoyed by only an acoustic guitar in others, it shows a whole other side to her talents.
Sandy Dillon – ‘Can’t Afford To Lose My Man’
Having recently completed a half-covers, half-originals album of blues songs, Living In Dreams, self-professed ‘jazz-punk western blues’ singer Sandy Dillon was in a perfect position to contribute to our Odetta tribute. She’s recorded several of the songs in Odetta’s back catalogue over the years, but she really wanted to give us something new. So rather than let us borrow the version of ‘Can’t Afford To Lose My Man’ from Living In Dreams, she suggested we use a live version she’d recorded in session at the Berlin-based Radio Eins, featuring her husband Ray Majors (ex-Mott The Hoople) on guitar and Alabama 3’s Sir Eddie Real on percussion. By far the most unconventional voice on the album, you only have to watch the accompanying video to see how much fun Sandy had with the song, and ultimately that’s what shines through the brightest.
Ora Cogan – ‘Motherless Child’
Not to be confused with the other trad-folk staple ‘Motherless Children’, Ora Cogan’s version of ‘(Sometimes I Feel Like A) Motherless Child’ is another track that arrived fully formed, lifted wholesale from her 2007 album Tatter . We ummed and ahhed about re-recording the song for Beautiful Star but ended up using the same take, which features Trish Klein and Frazey Ford of The Be Good Tanyas on backing vocals and Ora’s own beautifully bowed and plucked violin. Ora has a knack of somehow compressing a century of personal anguish and hard labour into each reedy syllable, giving the song a palpable depth and a resonance that lasts long after it’s finished.
Josephine Oniyama – ‘The Gallows Pole’
Originally suggested to us as a potential contributor by Shingai Shoniwa of The Noisettes, Josephine was keen to take part and immediately asked about covering ‘The Gallows Pole’, one of Odetta’s most respected and authoritative traditional recordings. Josephine updates the song with a performance that’s full of swagger and conviction, her appealingly raw vocal providing an emotional wallop that’s hard to ignore. Now recording under her first name only, she’s gearing up to release her debut album next month.
Pepi Ginsberg – ‘Beautiful Star’
Ever since she sent us her debut album through the post a few years back, I’ve been a little bit in love with Pepi Ginsberg. Her most recent album Red was her best yet, as attested to by our feature in Wears The Trousers #6, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get her to record us an exclusive track forBeautiful Star. And, as you’ve probably noticed, she chose what would become the title track, originally written and recorded by Odetta for her 1960 album Christmas Spirituals. It’s not an obviously festive number though, so don’t disregard it on that criterion alone. Pepi’s version is a defiantly lo-fi, hushed recording that hums with a warm sensuality and shouldn’t be missed.
Society Of Imaginary Friends – ‘Another Man Done Gone’
So impressed were we by their debut album Sadness Is A Bridge To Love, Wears The Trousers ran a feature on Society Of Imaginary Friends in our 2008 yearbook, which in turn inspired the band to pen a new song based on what we’d written. This new recording of ‘Another Man Done Gone’ continues our inspirational partnership with this London-based collective, and finds the band utterly transforming Odetta’s virtually a cappella recording from her 1956 solo debut Odetta Sings Ballads & Blues. Odetta originally trained as an opera singer and loved the theatre, so we hope she’d approve of Louise Kleboe and co’s dramatic, red-blooded performance on this beautifully orchestrated epic.
Marissa Nadler – ‘All My Trials’
A huge fan of Odetta’s music, Marissa was one of the first people we approached about recording a track for the album and she immediately agreed. In contrast to Anaïs Mitchell’s version, Marissa sounds as if she’s singing from beyond the grave, her guitar serenely weeping over the cruel inevitability of it all, and her switching of the gender in the lyric gives the song an interesting new angle. Marissa has also recorded a version of ‘Another Man Done Gone’, which we’ll be offering as a free download in the weeks to come.
Kelli Ali – ‘All The Pretty Little Horses’
This song was originally reserved for Shingai Shoniwa, who’s a huge Odetta fan, but the success of The Noisettes’ most recent album meant that she no longer had the time to do it. Happily, former Sneaker Pimps frontwoman Kelli Ali readily stepped into the breach and delivered this unique, hypnotic take on the song within just a few weeks of being invited to take part. The interplay between Alan Lacroix’s acoustic guitar and Jane South’s flute reaches a dazzling intensity as Kelli’s cooing birdsong vocals drift in and out in a lullabic haze. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything quite like it before.
Katey Brooks – ‘What A Friend We Have’
Christianity was a huge part of Odetta’s life so I felt it was only right that we should include some reference to it in our tribute. Bristol-based singer-songwriter Katey Brooks impressed us a couple of years back, first with her stunning True Speaker EP and then with a jaw-droppingly soulful performance at one of our live showcases, so we jumped at the chance when she offered to do a version of this mid-19th century hymn for the compilation. Recorded in France, this short a cappella song provides a very grounding, graceful bridge to the album’s heartfelt conclusion. Katey’s debut album is due to be released through Medical Records by the end of the year.
Liz Durrett – ‘Chilly Winds’
When approaching Liz Durrett about recording ‘Chilly Winds’, I was convinced that her beautifully dusky voice would be perfect for capturing the feeling of longing that the lyrics demand, so it was a real joy to get the track back and realise I was totally right. Recorded with her uncle Vic Chesnutt on keyboard, Liz makes the song her own with a gorgeously understated performance that’s full of yearning and dewy-eyed determination, a muted bass drum and sparsely picked acoustic guitar line ushering the song along like ripples in a puddle of tears.
Arborea – ‘This Little Light Of Mine’
I first began talking to Buck and Shanti Curran early this year when they were preparing a benefit compilation of their own, Leaves Of Life, released in the summer. A children’s favourite, ‘This Little Light Of Mine’ is perhaps the best known song on the disc and certainly one of the most performed songs in Odetta’s repertoire, so I was adamant we needed to represent it here. I had been having some trouble finding someone to tackle the song for the compilation, perhaps because it is so well known and hard to pull off without sounding twee, so Arborea’s brave acceptance of the challenge was a real boost. Tapping into their own personal connections to the song, the Currans turned in a deeply reflective, soothing rendition that closes the album on a comfortingly hopeful note. It’s a quiet triumph.