“The Tin Angel Presents Odetta And Larry” by Odetta and Larry - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1954Album Chart of the Decade: 1950s

TJR says

These recordings, made in 1953 and 1954, were mostly made in the studio, although a few were taken from live sessions at San Francisco's Tin Angel bar. This is an interesting and occasionally powerful collaboration album featuring traditional spirituals with blues covers. It’s usually at its best when the powerful and soulful timbre of Odetta is allowed to let rip, although it's Larry who edges it for top song with his terrific version of “Payday At Coal Creek”, a great old workers song first recorded by Pete Steele back in 1938. Odetta shines best on “John Henry” and “Water Boy” – she can sure holler some. I might add that, as good as it is here, she would make better, more dramatic, versions of “Water Boy” in later recordings.

Odetta Holmes and Lawrence B. Mohr met at a bar called “The Lamp” on Kearney Street in North Beach, San Francisco in 1953, the area that was soon to become Beatnik central. Odetta was in San Francisco because she was travelling with the chorus of Finian's Rainbow. Larry had just finished college at the University of Chicago, and travelled to San Francisco with his best friend who was shipping overseas into the Navy. “The Lamp” was famous for its musical environment. People would spend evenings there jamming with guitars, banjos, and other musical instruments. On one fateful evening in the summer of 1953, Larry began playing a Lead Belly song and Odetta joined in harmony. They jammed together, and that was the beginning.

Odetta was becoming known around North Beach, San Francisco and stayed in town after Finian’s Rainbow left. She was hired to sing at a club called The Purple Onion, which made her well known in the club-arena. Shortly thereafter, Odetta was hired by Peggy Tolk-Watkins, owner of the Tin Angel, to sing most evenings at the club. When she saw how well Odetta grooved with Larry, Peggy hired Larry too. Most evenings, the pair would each do a solo set and then a set together. On a typical evening, the audience numbered 30-40 persons. Max and Sol Weiss, the owners of Fantasy Records, asked Odetta and Larry to make an album which they titled “Odetta and Larry”. They recorded over several evenings. The songs that appeared on the album were chosen based on how well Odetta, Larry, the Weisses, and the audience liked each song. Altogether, Odetta and Larry performed at the Tin Angel for about 8 months.

Odetta went on to spend her life performing and recording. Larry abandoned the musician's life to get a real job and raise a family; both of his children are involved in folk music and dance activities to this day.

n.b. The above information was provided by Larry himself in a 2012 interview by blogger, Emily Duffield. I was hoping to perform one of my favourite tricks and digitally re-assemble this old 1954 LP but, alas, I was misled into believing that the reissues included the original LP with bonus tracks. As it turns out, two of the original eleven tracks were omitted and cannot be purchased on MP3 anywhere. My rating is therefore limited to 9 of the 11 tracks and I’m unable to confirm the album’s runtime. If any kind soul could oblige me with details of where I can find “I'll Tickle Nancy” or “The Tailor Boy” I’d be much obliged.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [01:27] 4.9.png Odetta and Larry - Car Car Song [live] (Woody Guthrie) Folk
A2 [00:00] 0.0000.png Odetta and Larry - I’ll Tickle Nancy (Traditional)
A3 [01:47] 5.3.png Odetta and Larry - Rock Island Line (Huddie Ledbetter) Folk
A4 [03:09] 7.0.png Odetta and Larry - John Henry [live] (Traditional) Folk
A5 [02:36] 5.5.png Odetta and Larry - Old Blue (Traditional) Folk
A6 [03:59] 6.8.png Odetta and Larry - Old Cotton Fields At Home (Huddie Ledbetter) Folk
B1 [03:02] 7.1.png Odetta and Larry - Payday At Coal Creek (Traditional) Folk
B2 [02:19] 5.1.png Odetta and Larry - No More Cane On The Brazos [live] (Traditional) Folk
B3 [00:00] 0.0000.png Odetta and Larry - The Tailor Boy (Traditional)
B4 [03:40] 6.9.png Odetta and Larry - Water Boy (Traditional) Folk
B5 [02:47] 6.0.png Odetta and Larry - The Tin Angel Brag (Traditional) Folk

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