It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues is a revue that traces the evolution of the blues from Africa and slavery through the end of the 20th century, traversing country-blues, gospel, modern soul-blues, and more. Nominated for four Tony Awards, the production met with a fair amount of success, and this original cast recording features the cast that performed when it was staged at New York's Lincoln Center. No major blues artists were in the cast or sang lead vocals, although the soundtrack album featured instrumental cameos by Taj Mahal, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy. Broadway productions that center around non-Broadway genres of popular music rightfully have popular music fans donning radar antennae of suspicion. It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues is not a major musical work, judged solely by the score and the performances, but it is above average as such musical history-cum-theatrical productions go. If you're thinking this is going to be a history of the blues, you're partly right, but it's a flashcard history, touching on a few major songs, like "St. Louis Blues," "Cross Road Blues," "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," and "The Thrill Is Gone." It seems to run out of steam as it approaches the year 2000: The concluding "Members Only" (with Andrae Crouch and the Andrae Crouch Singers) owes more to adult contemporary gospel than to blues, and has a chorus reminiscent of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (a great song, but not a blues). It could also be observed that "Good Night, Irene" and "Fever," also classic songs, are not exactly in the deep blues tradition. Still, if this leads some of the audience to learn more about the blues, that's a good thing. Even if much of that audience doesn't learn more about the blues, well, it's musically adequate, and there have been far worse samplings of the form in the mass media. MCA claims that this is the first original cast album to feature computer enhancements; those enhancements include a narrative history of the blues by Whoopi Goldberg, Taj Mahal, and Ron Taylor, as well as several dozen historical photos.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger