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Odetta still singing strong and proud at 70

Aladdin TheaterOct. 12, 7 p.m. $16.50

It’s infrequent that one has the opportunity see a living legend. This Saturday Portlanders are presented with just that opportunity at the Aladdin Theater when Odetta, the queen of folk blues, swings into town.

Odetta has been singing, and protesting (not just in song), for nearly 50 years and 23 albums.

Remarkably enough she still sounds as fresh and strong as ever on her new album Lookin’ For a Home, a tribute to the works of Huddy Ledbetter, a.k.a. Leadbelly.

Leadbelly’s songs tend to have a deep, resounding echo of sadness contradicted by a certain reserved joy. Perhaps this is most apparent on the track “Bourgeois Blues,” where he sings of discrimination and inequity, but glosses it over with a toe-tapping rhythm. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down.

Odetta hasn’t been convicted of murder or spent years in jail like Leadbelly, but her eloquently resounding voice sings as if she were intimate with the man’s suffering, experiences and life. She has a definite understanding and insight into his own special form of melancholy.

Also in Lookin’ For a Home is perhaps Leadbelly’s most well-known song, “Midnight Special,” which was written while in the Texas’ Sugarland prison. The theory behind the song is that a train would pass near the prison every night or so and whoever the headlight illuminated would be the next man to be the next man to be set free.

Thankfully Odetta reclaims “Midnight Special” from the rock and roll affiliations which have undermined its message and lyrics (which speak of freedom, not simply from jail but also prejudice and ignorance), and returns it to its blues roots with resounding conviction.

Odetta gives her own unique, yet truly authentic, interpretation to Leadbelly’s lyrics.

Friday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. the Aladdin Theater, 3017 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., 503-233-1994, tickets are $16.50.