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Divas Sing The Blues
Various Artists
El-Camel's Ratings:

ABM Label
michael white


Sex is next to breathing - both reflex and fundamental. With the arrogance of youth each generation behaves as if it's the first to discover the act. And the surprise is almost tangible that someone else got there first. Yet, back in the old days of the last century when contemporary sexuality of the in-yer-face - and in everywhere else - variety would have shocked the censor rigid, the girls were just as moist and salacious. Conveying this to the audience though required a less direct approach. But, to understand their desires, you had to be in on the code. Innuendo was the chosen language of lust - you either got it as one of the (get) in crowd, or you didn't. The great thing with innuendo is that it stood up to demands in or out of court.

This saucy collection is a kind of Carry On Up The Blues informally documenting every other kind of consenting pink carry on that has taken place since time began. The cloaking devices employed are like a lyric form of the Emperor's new clothes. Did I really hear that? Or is it just my dirty mind? These cuts spanning from 1929 to the late-forties indulges the appetite of anyone who might lay claim to having one - dirty mind that is; or who enjoys playing the misheard lyric/meaning game. Earthy and salty; the blues were Queen of the everyday and, if this required a collective deception to talk about life's main pleasure so be it: but, barriers notwithstanding, talk it, walk it, celebrate it, flaunt it - they would.

So much here is sung with a tongue in cheek; and no doubt a glint in the eye and a knowing smile on the face. 'Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat' from Hannah May (although I think she probably did) has the line: "You can play with my pussy but please don't dog it around." Or at least I think that's what she said. All backed up by a male/female call and response style and a cat on heat wailing in the background. From there the innuendo comes thick and fast - which is just the way the girls like it. In an evocative slow blues ballad the immortal Bessie Smith informs us she 'Need(s) A Little Sugar In My Bowl.' One lump or two? And the smoky horn (pardon) atmosphere of 'My Daddy Rocks Me (No.2)' leaves little room for conjecture over just what Trixie Smith is on about.

The gals' approach to the sticky problem of disguise can be roughly sub-divided along three main avenues. The food/culinary euphemism is a particularly lip-smacking diversion. Making a meal of it are Lil Johnson - who is "Looking for a butcher to prime my meat" in 'Meat Balls' - and Lucille Bogan who definitely likes it hot, black and strong in 'Coffee Grindin' Blues.' The less specific - though most ingenious - devices involve unexpected objects and expressions: heavy breathe over the salubrious roll of Memphis Minnie's 'Dirty Mother For You;' marvel at Lil Johnson (the woman is insatiable on this album providing four equally steamy performances) who, despite the battering down below, assures us - 'My Stove's In Good Condition;' and connect with Kansas Katie whose got a 'Deep Sea Diver' who seldom comes up for (h)air - or so it seems.

The final fetish involves the good men of the utilities - who are never lacking with their utilities when the bills have to be paid in kind. There is no beating around the bush here: these men come and go by the front door - with none of the subterfuge of the classic philanderer in Willie Dixon's 'Backdoor Man' - although some other guys featured within do go round to the rear entrance: Lizzie Miles' - 'My Man O' War.' So, we get a constant flow of gas men, electricians, milk men and very handy, handy men - all of whom maintain a constant flow elsewhere.

It's all enough to make your 'Hot Nuts Swing' - Stella Johnson: accompanied by Dorothy Scott's Rhythm (method) Boys - as these divas, ladies of the world every darned one of 'em, tell it like it is with innuendo and impunity. It's S-E-X, although they - through necessity - spell it differently. These ladies have got balls in more ways than one. And to arrogant youth everywhere, they definitely don't write them like this anymore.

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