Various Artists

Alligator Records 35X35

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After 35 years and the release of over 2800 contemporary blues tracks, it's safe to say that Bruce Iglauer's Alligator Records is the world's premier blues label, particularly if sheer numbers are factored in, and while the label's releases tend to sound mind-numbingly similar sometimes, this two-disc overview of Alligator's history shows how much raw vitality the blues still has in its tank. Alligator Records 35X35, arranged chronologically and featuring a selection drawn from each of the artist's debut albums with Alligator, gets rolling right where it all began, with Hound Dog Taylor's "She's Gone" from 1971, and marches through to 2004, closing the second disc with a stunning version of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (here called "A Dying Man's Plea") by the great Mavis Staples, who makes clear the deep affinity of gospel to the blues, or vice versa, since the two forms philosophically complete each other, the way Saturday marches straight into Sunday. In between these two tracks are a whole lot of barnburning moments, including the bayou blues of Lonnie Brooks on "Voodoo Daddy" from 1979, a selection from Professor Longhair's final session (1980's "In the Wee Wee Hours"), Lonnie Mack and Stevie Ray Vaughan trading guitar solos on "Satisfy Suzie" from 1985, and Roy Buchanan's jaw-dropping electric guitar intro to "When a Guitar Plays the Blues," also from 1985. There is variety here, too, with C.J. Chenier's zydeco blues romp "Bad Luck" from 1995, Corey Harris' acoustic slide guitar reenactment of Blind Willie Johnson's classic "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" (also from 1995) and the Holmes Brothers' wonderful blend of gospel, blues, and R&B on "Speaking in Tongues" from 2001. All of this adds up to a completely satisfying set, and makes a fitting testament to Alligator's decades-long devotion to the preservation of the modern blues form.

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