Blues Masters -- The Essential Blues Collection
Rhino was promoting the hell out of this disc at the Chicago Blues Fest in June. Even had their own booth where they played it over and over and over. Fortunately for festgoers (and blues lovers) Blues Masters lives up to its title.
Culled from Rhino's fifteen-volume blues series, the collection provides budget-conscious consumers with a teaser of that series, sparing them the trauma of plunking down a huge chunk of change and finding shelf space for all those discs. Each disc spotlights a certain aspect of the blues: For those who may easily tire of an entire hour of, say, just slide guitar, the sampler is the way to go.
A far-reaching overview of blues styles is represented on Masters, from the ragged call-and-response of a Texas prison camp to the smooth, citified sophistication of a Harlem bandstand. Those who introduced rock audiences to roots music A the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the Sixties, Stevie Ray Vaughan in the Eighties A are also represented, the former with their outstanding version of "Shake Your Money-Maker," the latter with his breakthrough single "Pride and Joy."
Of course Muddy is here (a sublime and surreal "You Need Love," from a volume that showcases original versions of rock covers), as is his compatriot Little Walter ("Juke"). While neither artist is exactly a rarity on record, it's fun to have them side-by-side with the other selections (isn't that what a good compilation is all about?).
More obscure and surprising is a sweet treat from Mississippi John Hurt. Rediscovered in the Sixties blues boom, MJH finger-picks a raunchy country blues called "Candy Man" for an adoring Newport Folk Fest crowd. Just as startling is "Bumble Bee" by guitarist/vocalist Memphis Minnie. Accompanied by second guitarist Kansas Joe, Minnie slings and sings as down and dirty as any of her male counterparts, and deserves to be heard more often.
Masters also follows the blues as they evolved in urban centers from Texas (T-Bone Walker's "T-Bone Blues") to New York (Count Basie Orchestra and Joe Williams's "Everyday I Have the Blues" -- a remarkable vocal performance by one of the all-time natural greats), as well as their later impact on rock and roll (Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" and Ruth Brown's "Wild, Wild Young Men").
Overall, Masters is a fine sampling for the novice or aficionado that amply displays the vast variety of blues and its tremendous influence on popular music. Intelligent liners are written by Barry "Dr. Demento" Hansen, a guy who started out with a love for the blues, but ultimately made his living elsewhere. He's not alone.
Fretblanket sounds like Soul Asylum without the brains, experience, or the mob-money backing. They look like Soul Asylum, too. So the question is: Are you so cynical as to think that some band sat around and decided, Hey, if we mimic S.A., we can get signed to a major and make some real money? And the second question is: Are you so cynical as to think that a record label would go out looking for an answer to Columbia's success with S.A.? As far as answers go, I'd direct my music-buying budget to old S.A. before I'd fall for this.
Hendrix was a bluesman. No big revelation there. Hell, you could hear it in just about everything he recorded. Liner notes by Michael J. Fairchild provide interesting perspective, mentioning a litany of influences (Albert Collins, Albert King, Eddie Kirkland, and of course, Robert Johnson, with whom romanticists will forever link Hendrix). As for Hendrix's performance: brilliant, extremely fluid playing deeply felt. What did you expect?
-- By Bob Weinberg
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