Various Artists

A Short Cut to the Grave

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This wonderful set includes four discs, 100 tracks in all, of vintage blues 78s released between 1924 and 1942 compiled by collector and archivist Neil Slaven. Each of the four discs has a theme, with the first disc presenting songs about gambling (including Peg Leg Howell's harrowing and kinetic "Skin Game Blues"), the second covering alcohol and drugs (including Tommy Johnson's immortal "Canned Heat Blues"), the third playlisting songs about jail and prison (including Bukka White's powerful "Parchman Farm Blues"), and the fourth winds things up with songs about death (including Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"). Several of the sides here will be familiar to serious fans of prewar country blues, but there are enough rare sides here, too, to make this set an archival treasure, and the themed discs help sketch out the imagined (and sometimes very real) arc of many of these players' lives and times.

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