Various Artists

Atlantic Blues 1949-1970

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This limited-edition (3000 copies) box screams old school. From its album sized packaging to the sepia toned photos, rare poster reproductions and pictures of the artists, the four-disc anthology is geared towards collectors with an eye to the past. The first of three sets (soul and vocal groups are the other two genres covered) celebrating Atlantic's 60th anniversary in 2007 is an 80-track trawl through blues rarities, obscurities and a few ringers that helped put the label on the map. Logically kicking off with the label's first hit, Sticks McGhee's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" from 1949, the selection digs way under the radar to unearth seldom heard but rollicking sides from Barrelhouse Sammy, Harry Van Walls, Soldier Boy Houston and Jimmy "Baby Face" Lewis, and that's just disc one. Some usual suspects such as Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles and LaVern Baker also appear as the discs unfold, yet the mysterious absence of anything from the mega popular Ruth Brown is unexplained. Notes from compilation producer Billy Vera explore the artist's backgrounds, but the lack of specific track personnel on a historical set of this nature is somewhat problematic. Atlantic blues rockers such as Cream and Led Zeppelin, whose early releases would fit within the titular time span, are rightly ignored in deference to more traditional artists Freddie King and Otis Rush, despite the guitarist's releases having a minimal impact on their already established careers. Aretha Franklin, best known for her legendary soul recorded for Atlantic, also appears late in disc four with three terrific blues numbers from the late '60s. Even with such rootsy names as Leadbelly and Guitar Slim, the set veers towards the jump blues that proved so profitable to the fledgling label early on. While it's surely not meant for newcomers, this is a well compiled and produced set of important and often rousing music that aficionados of '40s and '50s blues will relish.

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