Various Artists

The Story of the Blues [Friedman/Fairfax]

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This decent compilation of early Delta blues comes with a 72-page book that chronicles the music's history. The CD is completely composed of original recordings and by itself acts as a decent compilation of the genre. The book traces the style back through the Ante Bellum south to West Africa and explains why the historical sources on the subject are inaccurate. The real strength is that it places the music in its historical context, focusing on the living conditions and harsh realities many African Americans faced on the Mississippi Delta. After a brief introduction it gives detailed biographies of Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters. It also contains blurbs about numerous artists all featured on the compilation, including Leadbelly, Bessie Smith, and Memphis Minnie. This package would be an ideal starting point for those looking to learn more about the history of the blues, but it contains some glaring deficiencies. For one, it ends after focusing on Muddy Waters and the beginnings of Electric Blues, neglecting to even mention the explosion of the Chicago style. Also, major artists like B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf (who's only mentioned in one paragraph), and T-Bone Walker are overlooked. There is also no mention, or comparison, of blues with country music of the time. By ignoring the fact that the two styles did much to influence one another it incorrectly labels rock & roll simply as an outgrowth of blues, sung by white singers. This book and CD shouldn't be viewed as a comprehensive account of the music's history, but just a decent introduction for those who don't have any knowledge of the genre.

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