Various Artists

Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James

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The 2018 tribute album Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James was released to coincide with the 100th birthday of Elmore James, one of the titanic figures in 20th century blues. Given that James died at the age of 45 in 1963, 55 years prior to the release of Strange Angels, his profile could use the boost this kind of star-studded tribute album delivers, and there are enough blues, country, rock, and soul stars here to snag the attention of the curious. What they'll find is an exceptional catalog given a slyly diverse array of interpretations, almost all of which are considerably less fiery than James' originals. Tom Jones' barrel-chested roar on "Done Somebody Wrong" attempts to conjure some of that rawness and it finds a counterpart in a long jam between Warren Haynes, Billy Gibbons, and Mickey Raphael on "Mean Mistreatin' Mama," but the act that gets the closest to the loose groove of Elmore is Rodney Crowell, who plays "Shake Your Money Maker" with a grin. If James' electric vitality is distinctly absent, it's also to the credit of the producers and performers that they treat James' catalog as songs that can withstand interpretation, while also nodding to his exceptional skills as a slide guitarist. This means Strange Angels is a fine, engaging collection of traditional blues, one that's enjoyable on the surface but more importantly provides a possible introduction to one of the true greats of postwar blues.

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