Bitter Sweet Blues

Gaye Adegbalola

Alligator Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If women had balls, Gaye Adegbalola would have a set that could rival many men.

Somehow, I think that Adegbalola, one of the founding members of Saffire The Uppity Blues Women, would take that as a compliment when referencing her 1999 solo debut Bitter Sweet Blues. Who else could tackle such issues as racism, spousal abuse, sexuality of all kinds and religion in such a cohesive package?

While the blues has always seemed like it was a form of music that welcomed men and women, Adegbalola seems like she's constantly kicking at the door in front of her in order to have her message heard. Maybe that's why it's a little uncomfortable to hear a song like "Big Ovaries, Baby" while the listener might not think twice if a man made a similar bragging comment about his machismo. Once you get over the initial shock, though, Adegbalola does deliver a pretty powerful message in the song - namely, that she's just as bold as any man out there.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Not all the songs on Bitter Sweet Blues are quite as bold. Tracks like "She Just Wants To Dance" don't seem to have any hidden agenda, and are meant to be taken at face value as catchy numbers that might get you up and moving. Others, like "Jail House Blues," reach back to the days of Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson, albeit with a starker sound devoid of unneeded instrumentation, and paint the kind of dark picture that well-done blues can create. Still others, like "The Dog Was Here First," offer light-hearted moments at just the right time.

Yet Bitter Sweet Blues is an album that challenges the listener's line of thinking on many levels. If you think that this disc is just going to allow you to sit back and enjoy the music, think again. Adegbalola wants you to use your brain, and dares to get it working regarding subjects like incest ("Nightmare"), abuse ("You Don't Have To Take It (Like I Did)"), racism ("Nothing's Changed" - complete with some spicy slide guitar work) and declaration of one's sexuality ("Front Door Blues"). Yet for all these challenges, Adegbalola never loses sight of the music, which is the first thing the listener is hit with. By her keeping focus on both sides of the coin, the songs - and, in turn, the whole album - succeed in their missions.

Yet Bitter Sweet Blues is not the kind of album you grab at a light-hearted moment - and that is the only real negative I can see with the disc. Granted, you don't have to be ready to stick your head in the oven to listen to this disc, but you admittedly have to be in the right mindframe to fully appreciate what Adegbalola is trying to accomplish here. For a mood piece, it's a wonderful selection.

I admit I've never been a big fan of Saffire, which could explain why Bitter Sweet Blues has sat in the Pierce Memorial Archives waiting to be discovered. Thankfully, Adegbalola has given us another reason to appreciate the blues as a true American classic, and Bitter Sweet Blues is an album that is well worth checking out - provided you're willing to invest the effort that the disc all but demands.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.