Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ida Cox & Coleman Hawkins: Blues for Rampart Street (1961)



I checked into this record due to the presence of Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, knowing little about Ida Cox's storied career, but while Hawkins' band provides beautifully restrained arrangements, shadowing their swing-period glories, it is she who ended up throttling me. When the LP was recorded, she was nearing her seventies and had been retired for two decades. We're not hearing her sing these mostly self-penned blues classics at her peak, but the wisdom and fire, the frayed edges, make all ten tracks genuinely affecting.

"Blues for Rampart Street" itself is a stirring evocation of bygone years, "Wild Women (Don't Have the Blues)" a monument of teasing eroticism made all the more intriguing by the power in Cox's fading voice. Perhaps best of all is her interpretation of the standard "St. Louis Blues," maybe the most resigned and wounded version I've heard, but there is not even a hint of falseness or strain on this entire disc -- all the songs movingly capture echoes of 1920s and '30s dancehalls and romance and promises running almost tangibly through Cox, the mood sweet but melancholy in the loveliest way.

Ida Cox would never record another album; this short-lived comeback was her last musical project before her death in 1967. It's rare that blues historians get such an unfiltered glimpse at an aged legend, and even rarer that the result is so revealing, ghostly but present. But what makes Blues for Rampart Street truly exceptional is the effortless universal appeal it packs. Dig jazz or blues at all? Pick this up and set forty minutes aside for it; you absolutely will not regret it.

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