Various Artists

Piano Blues [Hallmark/ABM]

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Comprised of songs from the early days of the genre, Piano Blues is a pretty good collection of the essential early years of the blues. The musicians here may not be familiar to many listeners, but their tortured songs are textbook examples of how to sing the blues. Tracks like Lil Johnson and Tampa Red's "House Rent Scuffle" and Cripple Clarence Lofton's "Had a Dream" have a blunt sadness about them that is sorely missing from much of modern blues. What many of these artists had were severe real life problems, and these fueled their depression and their need to perform. Plus the crawling basslines and bursts of expressive music that are staples of the genre were still relatively new at this point, so the sound has a tense energy about it that stems from the experimentation these artists were still going through. The sound quality is one of the only real complaints about the album, as some tracks sound relatively good but many of them have a tinny whine that makes the piano shrill and annoying at points. Still, that is actually a fairly minor complaint considering how old these recordings are. It may not be a popular choice with those who do not follow this genre, but this collection is a very solid one and is recommended for blues enthusiasts.

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