Various Artists

Rare Blues from Deep in the Vaults

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Universal's Fuel 2000 is a label that either reissues albums or assembles compilations from other compilations along theme lines and, seemingly sometimes, according to whim. This collection of rather obscure blues sides from the vaults of Jewel/Paula/USA/Mel-Lon Records contains some truly rare sides by major artists, most of whom have deep connections to, or established their careers in, Chicago. The table is set from the get-go with an alternate take of "Dust My Broom" by Robert Jr. Lockwood, the stepson of Robert Johnson. While the tune goes back to Johnson's time, it is also closely associated with Elmore James, who struck gold with it. But Lockwood's version from 1951 for the J.O.B. imprint predates the hit James version and is actually the model that informed the hit. It was unreleased at the time of the James hit. John Lee Hooker's "I Love to Boogie" was recorded for Chance in 1949 but went unreleased until the early '50s. That version is here. James is here, too, with "Knockin' at Your Door." It was issued in 1957 on Chief, making it a rarity that has seldom been reissued. But these are just three of the many great artists who appear here with solid -- if obscure -- entries from their catalogs and the electric blues lexicon: Guitar Shorty, A.C. Reed, Shakey Jake, Little Walter, Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Leroy Foster, and J.B. Hutto all have cuts here. But more important than the recognizable masters are those who are only known to blues aficionados, such as the great vocalist Ricky Allen. He recorded Junior Wells' "Little by Little" as a B-side in 1964 for the USA label. It's a burning read of the Wells hit, and offers a solid horn section that is reminiscent of the blues James Brown was recording from 1962 through 1964. Another killer flip side here is Jesse Fortune's soulful blues "Heavy Heart Beat," recorded for USA in 1963. One of the most striking things here is Reed's "I Wanna Be Free," the B-side of "This Little Voice," also recorded for USA, but in 1961. The tune is notable not only for its groove, but for the absolutely killer -- though uncredited -- Wurlitzer solo. There are 18 tracks in all, and Bill Dahl's liner notes offer excellent, well-researched accounts of these tracks. And for a change, the sound on a Fuel set is as good as it gets.

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