Various Artists

Folk, Gospel & Blues: Will the Circle Be Unbroken

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The scope of the 45-track Folk, Gospel & Blues: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, culled from the gargantuan 26-disc box set Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century, is impressive. Columbia was one of the biggest labels in the early days of the record industry, as is evident from the beginning of this collection, which features cuts by Bessie Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie Johnson, the Mississippi Sheiks, and Thomas A. Dorsey. As a matter of fact, Columbia and its various offshoots stayed strong throughout pre-war blues and folk; the first disc alone also features Blind Willie McTell, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Josh White, Burl Ives, Memphis Minnie, Paul Robeson, Big Joe Williams, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Mahalia Jackson, and a pre-electric Muddy Waters. After the war, Columbia stumbled somewhat in this genre. The label recorded no blues or folk until the early '60s, when the folk and blues revivals brought these musical styles to new audiences. Consequently, a major portion of the genre's history is missing from this collection -- the only volume in the Sony Music 100 Years series to suffer such a gap. But the second disc presents a good history of post-revival folk and blues, picking up with Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Simon & Garfunkel, and Son House. Some may argue that Dan Fogelberg and Steve Forbert are more singer/songwriters than folk artists, or that Stevie Ray Vaughan rocks too hard to be blues, but this merely signifies what happened to the individual genres during the '60s, '70s, and '80s. So, even if there is a big gap on the compilation, the set is excellent overall. Its two discs offer a thorough history of folk and blues, and it's an incredible, impressive, entertaining history.

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