Various Artists

Blues from Up the Country

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One of four simultaneously released budget-priced samplers from the esteemed Delmark catalog in honor of its 50th anniversary in 2003, Blues From Up the Country concentrates on blues artists originating in the South. But since the selections are culled from Delmark's archives, the list of musicians is slightly more obscure than many compilations of this type. Blind Willie McTell and Big Joe Williams are arguably the best-known artists, but every track is reliably ragged as only the most authentic rural blues. Mandolinist Yank Rachell appears twice, once on his own "I'm Gonna Get Up in the Morning," and also backing Sleepy John Estes on a jaunty "Beale Street Sugar." Arthur Crudup's 1964 re-recording of the song that put him on the map (through Elvis' version), "That's All Right," sounds just a little less raw than the original. Lesser-known artists such as Jimmy Burns, Curtis Jones, and J.D. Short all turn in stellar performances that should encourage blues fans to search out more of their work, which of course is the point of compilations like this. The track sequencing is random, though, as the music spans 1949 through 1996, with the majority of the cuts recorded in the '50s and '60s. Jimmy Rogers turns in a stirring pre-Chess version of "That's All Right," (not the Crudup tune) with the remarkable Sunnyland Slim on piano in one of the album's many keepers. The fidelity is startling, too, with Blind Willie McTell's 1949 (or 1950) gospel tune "Hide Me in Thy Bosom" sounding as crisp and clear as if it was recorded decades later. A little short, even for a budget-priced disc, this is nonetheless eye-opening rustic blues that is as emotionally charged -- if not electrically so -- as anything coming out of Chicago. Well worth the eight bucks it costs if only for Robert Nighthawk's gripping slide guitar on "Crying Won't Help You."

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