These recordings capture what compiler-producer Norman Dayron called an undocumented phenomenon: acoustic blues players who couldn't get gigs in an electrified Chicago scene. Nothing changed until hotshots like the late harpist Paul Butterfield and guitarist Michael Bloomfield -- both of whom appear -- began helping the people they'd so fervently admired, jump-starting a whole new scene. Made between 1963 and 1965, these tapes attest to the undiluted power of solo performance with a piano, acoustic guitar, or even harmonica, as Dr. Isaiah Ross shows on a blistering "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" (recorded in a large but acoustically perfect university hall, as Dayron notes). Maxwell Street Jimmy, the Rev. Robert Wilkins, and Big Joe Williams get two songs apiece, which ensures a more focused listening experience. The album illustrates the tremendous variety among traditional artists like Wilkins, well-known for his earthy gospel-blues style, or deft pianists like Little Brother Montgomery and the legendary Sunnyland Slim. The colorfully monikered Maxwell Street Jimmy breathes vigor into the oft-covered "Two Trains Running." (He's also the featured artist on the cover, which shows him as a short-order cook, complete with grease-spattered apron.) Dayron's liner notes place all the performers' selections and contributions in perspective, which should prove helpful for listeners not familiar with the genre. As compilations go, this release is a good primer on traditional acoustic blues.
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AllMusic Review by Ralph Heibutzki