Various Artists

Living the Blues [Time-Life Inc.]

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Leave it to the venerable Time-Life Inc. to release a great grand-daddy among blues compilations, featuring genuine (and often inexplicably ignored) hardcore blues artists, presenting some of their best but not necessarily well-circulated songs. The scholarship here is all about diversity among very good examples: there are no soft anomalies or token distant cousins of the blues here. Many, but not all artists are featured on multiple cuts: there's a lot of Elmore James, Little Walter, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters and Bobby Bland: there are fewer but equally brilliant appearances by John Lee Hooker, Eddie Boyd, and Albert King, among many more. All part of the education is the solar system of the cover tradition: it's fun to recall Elvis Presley's R&B AM-radio monolith "Hound Dog" while being blown far from safety with the intense, no-nonsense version by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. And for the billion times we've all heard B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone," we're reminded of its legitimate status as a traditional and deeply emotional classic, especially when bumped up against Sonny Boy Williamson's fat "Fattening Frogs for Snakes" or Howlin' Wolf's howlin' "Spoonful." This is a wonderful and illuminating compilation.

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