Various Artists

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: The Best of the Blues

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A massive media campaign comprising seven documentary films broadcast on public television and released as a DVD box set, plus accompanying soundtrack albums, a 13-part radio series, a companion book, 12 individual artist compilations, and a five-CD box set, The Blues, executive produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese, threatened to be even more all-pervasive than Ken Burns' Jazz project, after which it was clearly patterned. And you might say it all boiled down to this single-disc distillation, which draws upon the vaults of major labels Universal and Sony. Even if all of that other material didn't make it clear, the absurdity of reducing the blues to a one-hour, 17-track album would be obvious anyway. But the way one judges this disc may depend upon whether it is trying to be "the best of the blues" or "the best of 'The Blues.'" It hasn't much hope of being the former, but as a one-CD sampler of the five-CD set, it does just fine. At the very least, it contains many indisputably classic blues performances by some of the indisputably major blues artists. Purists may object reasonably that it covers a very wide range, from the rural blues of Robert Johnson to the Southern rock of the Allman Brothers Band and the -- what can one call it? -- designer blues of Keb' Mo'. But that is in keeping with the series of films on which the five-CD set and this highlights disc are based. If the album doesn't really work as a collection, despite the individual talents and performances included, that may suggest that "the blues" has long-since become an umbrella term covering many different musical styles, not all of which work well together. And that only demonstrates its pervasive influence.

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