Various Artists

Blues & Soul Sessions

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There's much superior blues and soul music on this 30-song, two-CD set, but its focus is blurry to the point of mystery. Are these tracks fusions of blues and soul, à la artists like Bobby Bland and Little Milton? Not exactly, though a few of the numbers fit that description. Is it bluesy soul, soulful blues, or a combination of the two? Sometimes, but by no means always. It's more a collection that mixes soul cuts with blues cuts, covering, roughly speaking, the last half of the century, though it centers more around the period of soul's '60s/early-'70s heyday than it does anything else. It's a real hodgepodge of well-known recordings (John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom," Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City," Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle," Young-Holt Unlimited's "The In Crowd/Wade in the Water"); obscure cuts by well-known artists (including Aretha Franklin, Billy Preston, Booker T. & the MG's, Little Richard, the Staple Singers, LaVern Baker, Major Lance, Ike & Tina Turner, and Tyrone Davis); famous songs, but not in their original versions or most-noted interpretations (Erma Franklin doing "Hold on I'm Coming," Peggy Scott singing "Every Little Bit Hurts," Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck dueting on "Mustang Sally," Bobby Womack radically reworking a song he co-wrote, "It's All Over Now"); and just plain fill-up-the-space obscurities (Just Brothers' instrumental "Sliced Tomatoes"). There's some amiable but rather generic modern blues from the likes of Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials, and even traditional field-recorded blues from Vera Hall. There are a few, though not many, outstanding songs you'll have a hard time coming across on other reissues, like Floyd Smith's dramatic, moody soul ballad "Getting Nowhere Fast." It's a little like listening to a radio show specializing in blues and soul, and while it's hardly a bad assortment, it's not something that could be considered either a sturdy building block of or purposeful supplement to a comprehensive soul and/or blues record collection. The absence of liner notes or (for many of the tracks) original recording/release dates don't help.

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