Blind Willie McTell is unique among country bluesmen in having a 30-year recording career while remaining essentially an itinerant musician, and during his lifetime he was a familiar sight on the streets of Atlanta and other Southern cities as he performed his varied repertoire of blues, rags, and vaudeville pieces on his 12-string guitar. This two-disc collection assembles some 50 of his early 78s recorded for the Victor, Columbia, Okeh, Vocalion, and Decca labels between 1929 and 1935 into a two-disc set, although it unfortunately doesn't include a version of his signature tune, the magnificent "Statesboro Blues." Whether McTell actually wrote a lot of these songs (or merely adapted them) is unclear, but there is a sharp writer's eye at work here, and songs like "Dying Crapshooter's Blues" (which is based on elements from "Streets of Laredo" and "St. James Infirmary") are thoroughly modern compositions in a cut-and-paste narrative style. These recordings feature the early McTell, when his voice was still a high and expressive tenor. Toward the end of his life, McTell's voice deepened and grew rougher (no doubt from the effects of years of singing on the streets), the songs slowed down and became much more world-weary, and since he recorded his standards several times over, it is interesting to compare early and later versions of songs like "Broke Down Engine Blues." Georgia Rag is a passable introduction to this unique bluesman, but the absence of "Statesboro Blues" is a definite problem.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2