This 36-track anthology is as good a place as any to introduce yourself to one of the great voices of 20th century American music. Bessie Smith (nicknamed, appropriately, The Empress of the Blues) was the most popular female blues, jazz and pop singer of the '20s. She was also the decade's most powerful. "Graveyard Dream Blues," "Careless Love Blues," "Dyin' By The Hour"... she didn't sing tunes so much as unleash operas-in-miniature stained in lust, sadness, death and, of course, booze. But don't overlook her sly sense of humor. After all, Ms. Bessie thrived in the age of vaudeville.