In May, when HBO premiered Bessie, starring a sharply cast Queen Latifah as blues legend and vocal-jazz pioneer Bessie Smith, the company ensured it was as truthful as it was entertaining. The same high standards extend to the soundtrack. Latifah dominates the album, filling seven of its 17 tracks with her gutsy interpretations of such Smith gems as “Young Woman’s Blues,” “Work House Blues” and “Long Old Road.” Smith, whose rise to superstardom predated the advent of microphones, was a classic blues shouter. Latifah, though more soulful than blues-steeped, effectively transforms her style, emulating not only Smith’s rafter-rattling prowess but also her sly way with a lyric.
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