Various Artists

Lost Highways: American Road Songs 1920s-1950s

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Odes to the road are a beloved strain of American popular music, and Viper presents 20 such pieces of rural blues, hillbilly, rockabilly, early R&B, gospel, and jazz on this outstanding compilation. There are quite a number of great performers, including Woody Guthrie, Buddy Holly, Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, Jimmy Reed, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and (as part of the gospel group the Soul Stirrers) Sam Cooke. There are even some familiar classics on board, like Cole's "Route 66," Johnson's "Cross Road Blues," the original version of "Down the Road Apiece" (by Amos Milburn, though that song might be more familiar as covered by Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones), and Guthrie's "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad." But the accent is more on tracks not likely to be staples of the average collection, with off-the-beaten-path selections by some of the stars, and a good share of artists who aren't legends, like Gatemouth Moore, Clarence Garlow, and McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Everything's good at the least, some of it's great, and it's cool to hear some quality, relatively obscure cuts by major performers, like Holly's primitive, early rockabilly number "Down the Line" (done as half the duo Buddy & Bob), Howlin' Wolf's "Driving This Highway," and Williams' "I've Been Down That Road Before" (from a radio broadcast). It's the kind of anthology that makes you want to get out on the highway yourself with this CD as the soundtrack, though it's more socially responsible to just enjoy it at home than waste fuel so frivolously.