"Neo-Classic Blues"

Hot Toddy Music

It's payback time for blues singer Gaye Adegbalola. Best known for her recordings with Saffire, Adegbalola devotes her new CD with pianist Roddy Barnes to her musical forebears: Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Sippie Wallace, Lucille Bogan and Memphis Minnie, among others. Given their collective legacy -- brassy, poignant, heartbreaking and unabashedly sexual by turns -- it's not surprising that "Neo-Classic Blues" never finds Adegbalola wanting for inspiration.

Primarily devoted to the "classic blues" era of the '20s and '30s, the duet performances celebrate the seminal role women played in making the music popular, enduring and, in some cases, indelible. There's no shortage of familiar blues here -- songs closely associated with Rainey ("See See Rider Blues"), Mamie Smith ("Crazy Blues") and Bessie Smith ("Down Hearted Blues") -- but included among the 20 tracks are several lesser-known pieces, such as Bogan's lesbian-themed "BD Woman's Blues," and a few original songs. Among the last is Adegbalola's "Twisted Mind Blues," a tale of infidelity and abuse that neatly punctuates the vintage material. "It's bad enough you broke my heart," Adegbalola mournfully scolds, "but why did you go and twist my mind."

Wisely, Adegbalola and Barnes keep things simple. She refrains from vocal mimicry while he favors a thoroughly evocative but economical touch. They sometimes move beyond classic blues to touch on ragtime piano influences or soulfully reprise Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," but never for very long. The great blues sirens are always calling.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Monday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Gaye Adegbalola, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8102. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)