Various Artists

Boogie Woogie Rockin' Roots Tracks

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This compilation was a budget-price release in Europe and it's hard to beat as a one-volume compilation of boogie-woogie piano essentials for the American music section of your collection. Any artist omissions are minor ones, the major defining songs are here, and so are the style elements that gave blues, rhythm & blues and early rock & roll its piano vocabulary, from the New Orleans R&B school through Jerry Lee Lewis and on down to Gene Taylor of the Blasters and Fabulous Thunderbirds. Albert Ammons' "Boogie Woogie Stomp" sets the tone right away with a trilling intro giving way to a romping, stomping rhythm and "Swanee River Boogie" bookends the disc as an example of how popular songs could get "booglarized" (as Captain Beefheart put it) by adding in that left-hand foundation. But boogie-woogie is really all about personal trademarks -- Ammons may go for left-handed slides up the scale of "Suitcase Blues" but Meade "Lux" Lewis opts for bright right-hand trills and Cripple Clarence Lofton favors stabbing, regular rhythm and a pretty out-of-nowhere transition on "The Fives." "Cow Cow Blues" is a familiar collection of licks and melody lines by now, since it was the basis of "Mess Around" and a fertile source for New Orleans R&B maestro Professor Longhair, who also took his share from Jimmy Yancey. Speckled Red romps and stomps with a bit of mandolin backing, Cleo Brown takes it coy and smooth on the distaff side with a classic left-hand and once you hit the three Pete Johnson tracks, you're officially entered the Pianistics 101 classroom. (Who wants to argue with a title like "Death Ray Boogie," anyway?) But the tracks by players later in the timeline who aren't always labeled boogie-woogie may best show the range of possible approaches within the style. Hazel Scott is a surprise killer, elegant and melodic, while the crude and lewd, rough and tumble Big Maceo and pounding Piano Red show just how physical this music can be. Memphis Slim rocks it hard with a double sax sextet and Specialty label house boogie queen Camille Howard's hammering left hand shows why she was Specialty's in-house boogie queen, Amos Milburn doesn't waste any time hitting his stride and Cecil Gant, far better known as a balladeer, keeps it basic and right-hand minimal at first. Boogie Woogie Rockin' Roots Tracks is just flat-out 70 minutes of great piano music, mostly solo or in a trio, and a great single-disc introduction. Jump on it if you come across it, and it'll be worth your while to make some effort to track it down.