Various Artists

Rough Guide to the Blues

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Full marks to the Rough Guide people -- with this release they've hit it very squarely on the head. If you want one definitive guide to the blues, this is it. Granted, not every major figure is here -- no Skip James or Furry Lewis, for example, or Tampa Red -- but this is as good as you're going to find on a single CD, ranging from the very early days with Mamie Smith, through the Delta period of Charley Patton and the legendary Robert Johnson, Chicago and Detroit, to the harmonica players (Sonny Boy Williamson, although they could have picked a better track than having him backed by the Animals). It's all rounded off by taking the blues home to Africa with the late Ali Farka Touré. And it's not just the artists; the selection of tracks is USDA prime, too, from Big Bill Broonzy's "Keys to the Highway" to Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign." If you had access to many vaults, you end up feeling that, in most cases, these are the tracks you'd pick to represent the artists and the style, like the original version of "That's All Right" from Arthur Crudup, or T-Bone Walker's classic "Stormy Monday Blues." You might, however, select B.B. King caressing "The Thrill Is Gone," rather than the track here, "Ain't Nobody Home," but it's moot. Even the rough and ready Mississippi hill blues is represented by R.L. Burnside. The joker in the pack is Hound Dog Taylor, never a major figure, but when you hear his wild slide work, it's hard to quibble too much. Compilations don't come any better than this.

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