Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ma Rainey: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom [Yazoo, 1984]
Like most records of the '20s this 14-cut disc isn't exactly a pleasure to hear. Yazoo's pressing adds detail, brightness, and what may be an even-up trade--surface noise--to Milestone's five-duplication twofer. Nor is the material all one could hope for--"Prove It On Me Blues" would have provided both a jug band and a lesbian credo. But this is one artist whose history is made to be served. Too country to be semirespectably "classic" even though Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, and Don Redman show up among her sidemen, she's not so somber as gruff on the down blues she's best known for, and she also kids around. In short, she's more rock and roll than Bessie Smith. A