On the cusp of his 60th birthday, Peter Madcat Ruth has picked favorite old-time tunes from his repertoire, borrowed from wide-ranging folk and blues traditions. The title of this recording is inspired by a series of compilations from the Chess family of labels, but this is not a classic electric Chicago blues collection as were the originals. Instead, Madcat has chosen pre-war acoustic and country blues, as well as songs based in jazz and Brazilian music, all with his distinctive legato harmonica wail, rural guitar, ukulele or mandolin, and his down-home vocal style overdubbed to make the proceedings sound like the one-man band it is, but more expanded and full. Where occasional guests like electric bass guitarist Richard Smith or samba percussionists make cameo appearances, this is pretty much all Madcat in the style he has crafted, honed and crowd-pleasingly perfected during his 40-plus year career. A specialist in the blues, he does an autobiographical tune, "Pocket Full of Soul," talking about his early travels as a hitchhiker out of Chicago while discovering legends Sonny Terry, Junior Wells, Little Walter Jacobs, and Big Walter Horton, and utilizing multiple harmonicas. "Phonograph Blues" is a true real folk blues, "This Train" one of many songs he does about the old lonesome railroad, and "Country Blues" is an out-of-money-and-friends tale that we all can relate to. His ukulele playing has been refined over the past decade, best heard on the somber "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," where his singing is lower and deeper, and the track is not Pro-Tooled. He does credible covers on "Ode to Billy Joe" and the '60s soul tune "I Need Your Lovin' Every Day," while the folksy square dance "Old Joe Clark" with Jew's harps, and Daisy May Erlewine's contemporary ode to veggies, "Greens," extolling the virtues of grown food, spans over 150 years of songwriting. Throughout this disc, it's clear Madcat Ruth is a virtuoso on any instrument, with a ton of talent channeled in a large focus, further illuminated by his sweltering instrumental "U.S.-61," the fused maracata/New Orleans feel of "Sonny Terry Goes to Brazil," and the jazz-based, spacy "500 Miles" about a choppy-riding celestial train far from home. At once a world traveler, devoted husband and father and environmentalist, and renowned as one of the top harmonica players in the world, period, Madcat Ruth has made a far-reaching statement here, a definitive and complete project that deserves some overdue and ever lovin' attention.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos