While any collection professing to be a definitive overview of a genre usually falls short of the mark, it's hard to find fault with this excellently researched and compiled four-disc set from the Smithsonian Collection. Running the recorded history of the music chronologically, the first disc explores the early sides by guitarists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Barbecue Bob, Blind Willie Johnson, and Tommy Johnson, and classic blues singers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Sippie Wallace. Volume two rounds up sides from Leroy Carr, Mississippi John Hurt, Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie, Son House, and Big Joe Williams, as well as off-the-beaten-track delights from the Memphis Jug Band and the Mississippi Sheiks. The third volume continues in the history of Delta blues with classic entries from Robert Johnson and Bukka White, moving into the Bluebird beat, ending up with the first recordings from John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins. The final disc is a veritable feast of Chicago blues with classic sides galore from Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, and Jimmy Reed, finishing with more contemporary offerings from Ray Charles, Latimore, and a retro style closer from Cephas & Wiggins. The transfers on the really vintage sides are as good as any you're likely to come across, and the song selection throughout is impeccable. Add a sumptuous booklet chock-full of photos and an abundance of historical facts, all well-annotated by W.K. McNeil, and you've got a box set for the ages. Very, very well done.