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Misty Blues: Rock and Blues Muse Review of New Album!

Review: Misty Blues ‘Tell Me Who You Are: A Live Tribute To Odetta’

By Mike O’Cull

Beloved roots music group Misty Blues goes live and acoustic on their new release Tell Me Who You Are: A Live Tribute To Odetta in an homage to one of the greatest American singers of all time.

Set to drop August 18th, 2023 on Guitar One Records, the record brings us Misty Blues and low-toned, big-voiced lead singer Gina Coleman performing folk standards associated with legendary American folk singer and civil rights activist Odetta Holmes. Often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” Odetta was an important part of the folk boom of the 50s and 60s and influenced major artists including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin. She numbered iconic civil rights figures Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. among her admirers and Rolling Stone ranked her at number 171 on its list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Making this record has been on Gina Coleman’s radar since the 90s. Coleman had a brush with Odetta at the Bottom Line club in New York City as a guest of Arlo Guthrie that left an indelible impression on her and was a seminal moment in her musical journey. It finally manifested in May of 2023, when Misty Blues recorded these songs acoustically in front of a live audience. It was a big stylistic shift for the normally electrified band but Coleman and the rest of Misty Blues rose to the event and did a formidable job. MB is no stranger to the edges of their genre and have no trouble expressing Coleman’s often-stated belief that African-American folk music is most certainly part of the blues.

Coleman begins the album alone, delivering a solo a cappella rendition of “Glory Glory.” Odetta also sang it alone and Coleman does a wonderful job of immediately achieving the same emotional resonance as the original. You can easily hear how much this material means to her and that this is more than just another show in Misty Blues’ 24-year career. She quickly commands the attention of every soul in the room.

“Go Down Sunshine” is a rollicking, 12-bar shuffle that steps the line between Coleman’s folk-ish vocal phrasing and the song’s blues format. Misty Blues rocks the pocket a bit harder than the original version does but they also make it jump with life. Coleman’s vocals are bold and fully present, leading the band exactly where she wants them to go. Piano man Joel Nicholas also stands tall on this one, showing off some sweet chops.

The lively “Take This Hammer” pays genuine respect to Odetta’s version while also putting a blues band’s spin on this classic tune. Coleman injects more of her personal style into her vocal presence, a move that ups the song’s level of blues content considerably. Aaron Dean shows all the way up on saxophone, ripping off licks that sparkle and shine.

“Hit Or Miss” is a heavier blues that functions as an empowered anthem and statement of identity. Coleman puts herself out there in every way in this moment and sparks the other musicians to dig in and find something. They open up the groove and jam in the middle, turning this folk standard into an acoustic funk excursion. No bets are hedged and everyone is listening to each other and responding in real time. It’s pure human energy of the finest kind.

Misty Blues closes the record with a blissful and joyous version of “This Little Light Of Mine” that will lift your heart up to Heaven. Eileen Markland is a pleasant surprise on violin and Joel Nicholas again slays on piano. By this point, you’ve realized that Gina Coleman and Misty Blues are the only crew around who could do justice to these songs and Odetta’s enduring legacy and you’re just happy to be hearing it happen. Tell Me Who You Are: A Live Tribute To Odetta is required listening for blues fans near and far and is also an outstanding reminder of Odetta’s permanent place in the history of American music. Spin it and you’ll feel it all.

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