HBO Films is chronicling the life of blues legend Bessie Smith with new biopic “Bessie,” starring Queen Latifah. The movie debuted to rave reviews last weekend and “Bessie: Music From the HBO Film” is a perfect companion piece. The 17-track release includes classic recordings by Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Sippie Wallace and Kid Ory, as well as new interpretations of Smith standards by Queen Latifah.
“This is a project that has been close to my heart for many years,” Queen Latifah explains. To not only star as Bessie Smith but to also produce the film and the soundtrack is a dream for me. Recording this music was an incredible journey and I am proud to be a part of it all.”
The highlight of the set is closer “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.” Through studio trickery, the original Smith recording is paired with new vocals and banter courtesy of Queen Latifah. The results are nothing short of amazing.
Additional keepers include Queen Latifah’s spin on “Young Woman’s Blues,” “Weepin’ Woman Blues,” “Down Hearted Blues” and “Long Old Road,” as well as performances of “See See Rider” (Tamar-Kali), “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (Waller), “I’m a Mighty Tight Woman” (Wallace) and “Weary Blues” (Armstrong). Highly recommended. (Jeffrey Sisk)