Alberta Adams: No Handouts

Don't worry her, and don't ask for a loan either. There's a testy authenticity to the way Alberta Adams lays out lines like "Got change in my pocket and I'm worried about the rent/ Well I just got paid and the money done been spent" from "Don't Worry Me." She offers a spoken-word recitation of the world's problems on the jazzy "Everybody Got Their Hand Out" (RealAudio excerpt).

Having kept body and soul together singing the blues most of her life, alongside better-known colleagues like Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker and current label mate Johnnie Bassett, the 70-something former dancer has stared down considerable challenges and wastes no time with pity or tact on her new album Say Baby Say: Life's Trials and Tribulations According to Miss Alberta Adams.

Adams developed her savvy style on Detroit's bustling Hastings Street music scene in the 1940s, and recorded some songs for the Chess label in the 1950s. Say Baby Say, her follow-up to 1999's Born With the Blues, is a straightforward collection of uptown blues and modest intent. The songs are good, if not stellar, but the main attraction here is the forcefully husky-voiced Adams. Emphasizing her candid attitude and masterful timing helps overcome the occasional moments where her expressive voice has been thinned by age.

Her band offers tasteful support, comfortably romping through the New Orleans-flavored "That Dog," the sophisticated arrangements of "I Want a Man" (RealAudio excerpt) and the snappy "We Ain't Makin' Honey," which belie their frank lyrics. Guitarist Bassett and pianist Bill Heid are particularly fine rendering the early morning blues of "I Cried My Last Tear" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Nothing More to Say" (RealAudio excerpt). Bassett provides the album's classy high note on the latter with his elegantly rueful duet with Adams.