This album is a re-issue of two albums from the ‘50s: Sings Ballads and Blues and At the Gates of Horn. Odetta, according to her Wikipedia entry, trained as an opera singer, but decided that the Met would never go for a large black girl as a diva. She toured with Finian’s Rainbow in 1949, and turned to folk music as the ‘50s began.
I associate Odetta mostly with the ‘60s. I grew up then, and the civil rights movement was in full swing. If I recall correctly, I would go into the old Discount Books and Record store near Dupont Circle and posters featuring Odetta would be displayed. I never listened to her though. I listenrd to Joan Baez a lot, and eventually got turned on to Bob Dylan, but I never did Odetta or Nina Simone.
Odetta has a strong voice, one that matches her physical presence. She does not fake the emotion in the song. Some groups, particularly more recent groups, fake the emotion, and because ours is an age dedicated to unreality these fakers are extremely popular. In Odetta’s case the emotional reality that she is presenting is not faked.
Greensleeves, from At the Gate of Horn, is sung as a traditional English ballad. (Greensleeves may indicate the grass stains on a wench’s dress after engaging in certain strenuous activities outdoors. There is an interesting article about it on Wikipedia.) Pretty Horses is more of a lullaby than the Holly Cole version on Dark Dear Heart. Holly’s rendition is sadder and darker, which is true of most of the songs on her album, including the novelty song Que Sera, Sera. (Oops! Que Sera Sera is on the Don’t Smoke in Bed album.) He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands is a spiritual. I think that too often the spiritual is done badly, in this case it’s done well, and done with conviction.