Various Artists

Country Blues Hard Hitters, Vol. 1

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It goes without saying that "CD-quality sound" and the contents of this album have absolutely nothing in common with one another. If master tapes exist for even a handful of the 23 tracks included here it would be a miracle, and when the liner notes pledge that everything was remastered from the best available sources, that generally means a 78 without too many scratches in it. But with that caveat out of the way, Country Blues Hard Hitters is everything you could hope it would be, a roundup of music from the dawn of the recorded blues era, the 1920s and 1930s, with just a couple of glimpses forward into the '40s and '50s. Not all of the names, or the songs, will be familiar, but the presence of Blind Willie McTell, Big Bill Broonzy, and Blind Lemon Jefferson hints at the overall quality of the performers, while "Low Moaning Blues," "Cocaine Habit," "Evil Hearted Woman," and Jack Kelly's awesome "Highway Number 61 Blues" let you know that the album's title is no hyperbole either. These are the blues at the darkest and dirtiest, and the only thing that could improve on any of it would be -- a second volume, featuring more of the same!