Various Artists

Arhoolie Presents American Masters, Vol. 8: 15 Piano Blues & Boogie Classics

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For Volume Eight of its American Masters budget series, Arhoolie tackles the "blues piano" theme, with a crushing emphasis on the boogie-woogie styles of various Chicago, Kansas City, Texas, Louisiana, and Delta players. The pacing of this album does get predictable after a while (fast boogie, slow blues, fast boogie, slow blues...), but there's so much stylistic diversity here that the formula never gets tiresome. Producer Chris Strachwitz wisely avoids instrumental overkill (the trademark of most blues piano anthologies) by including several outstanding vocal performances by the likes of Mercy Dee Walton, Omar Sharriff, Johnny Young (who duets with Otis Spann), and Clifton Chenier (backed by Elmore Nixon). But in the end, the speed demons get to flaunt plenty of their pounding instrumental fare -- the main culprits being Pete Johnson, Big Joe Duskin, Katie Webster, and Lafayette Leake. This is a no-frills package (no liner notes whatsoever and minimal track info), but the music is without a doubt spectacular.

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