Steve Mann has long been one of the best-kept secrets of Americana. A dexterous and inventive acoustic blues guitarist, active on the West Coast for a brief while during the 1960s, Mann left his mark on the likes of up-and-comers Taj Mahal, Stefan Grossman, and Jorma Kaukonen, who dedicated the Hot Tuna instrumental "Mann's Fate" to the guitarist. Then, beginning in the late '60s, Mann disappeared from the scene for decades, subsequently spending much time in psychiatric facilities while his few recordings, unheard by many to begin with, were largely forgotten. This assemblage of mostly vintage Mann recordings, both from previously released (if now impossibly rare) albums and private collections, confirms rumors of Mann's dazzling technique and impressive versatility, despite the questionable fidelity on some tracks. Among the highlights are three tracks recorded with Janis Joplin in her San Francisco apartment in 1964, two years before the transplanted Texan's own debut recordings. Mann's accompaniment takes a back seat to the singer's powerful delivery on "Two Nineteen Train," "Trouble in Mind," and "Winin' Boy Blues," but he's front and center on all the rest, particularly burning on the six opening tracks, cut live at the Ash Grove club in L.A. in 1967. Alternating between original material (the hilarious "Elephant Song") and standards (Rev. Gary Davis' "Soldier's Drill," Mose Allison's "If You Live"), Mann proves that his reputation among those who crossed his path is justified. One recently recorded track, the finger-style instrumental "Hasta Luego," offers hope for a future for Mann that many of his faithful never believed would materialize.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin