Various Artists

Arhoolie 40th Anniversary Collection 1960-2000: The Journey of Chris Strachwitz

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Combine a great ear for music with a firm commitment to recording only what you personally like and you've got the formula that has fueled Arhoolie Records for 40 years. Founder Chris Strachwitz -- a German immigrant and former schoolteacher -- may have seemed an unlikely candidate to become one of the great compilers of regional American popular music, but that's sure what he turned out to be. This five-disc, 95-artist label retrospective is truly monumental. On disc one, which begins before Arhoolie's launch and covers 1954-1965, blues dominate. By the the time you've worked your way through all six hours of this collection, though, you'll understand why Strachwitz could never make it as a DJ even on a blues radio station; not only does he eschew mainstream commercial music, he couldn't possibly live within any format. Just when you think you've got Arhoolie pegged as a blues label, on comes a folk number. You settle into a zydeco groove, and the set shifts into gospel. Or Tex-Mex. There's also some bluegrass here. And jazz. Incredibly, all of this music makes some sort of sense together and the quality never flags throughout. Though the bulk of the package's greatest treats come from virtual unknowns (more than a few recorded in their own homes), you may already be familiar with some of these artists, including Jesse Fuller, K.C. Douglas, Mance Lipscomb, Clifton Chenier, and Flaco Jimenez. The accompanying 68-page, 41,000-word color "booklet" is more like a book. Co-producer Elijah Wald limited selections to recordings that Strachwitz himself made or supervised -- keeping the box from mushrooming beyond five discs -- but this meant the elimination of other great material. That will have to wait for the next box.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:44
2 2:49
3 2:52
4 2:31
5 2:26
6 4:47
7 2:54
8 3:07
9 4:16
10 3:38
11 2:48
12 2:27
14 3:57
15 3:51
16 2:20
17 2:41
18 5:12
19 3:02
20 2:14
21 3:03
22 2:26
23 3:37
24 3:35
25 3:03
blue highlight denotes track pick