Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ethel Waters

  • The Incomparable Ethel Waters [Columbia/Legacy, 2003] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Incomparable Ethel Waters [Columbia/Legacy, 2003]
Born 1896 in a red-light district to a 12-year-old rape victim, Waters was the record industry's first crossover star by age 25. She made her mark distilling dirty blues through timbre and diction clear as a glass slipper--on the long-deleted Greatest Years, "My Handy Man" and "Organ Grinder Blues" are further eroticized by how supplely she restrains the hot mama inside her. But with only two tracks that predate 1930, this collection documents the Broadway fixture who'd win an Oscar nomination and back Billy Graham. Listen through her protective decorum, which takes effort after half a century of radio raunch, and you'll encounter not just a gifted vocalist but a born actress who delivers every lyric and walks off with several--most famously, "Stormy Weather." A-