While it inevitably shares certain material with Rhino's similarly themed 1990 Blue Flames: Sun Blues Collection, this 2001 edition on Varese presents a generous 25 tracks (compared with Rhino's relatively meager 18) and digs deeper into the Sun vaults for its material. Since only five tunes are duplicated from the earlier release, it actually makes a perfect companion piece, as this chooses different songs from some of the same artists, as well as uncovers a few true obscurities. As most roots music fans know, Memphis and Sun Studios in particular were a hotbed of blues, as well as the birthing place for rock & roll as we know it. B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Little Milton, James Cotton, and Little Junior Parker all began their careers there. This music influenced nascent rockers like Elvis, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis to incorporate the bluesmen's sounds, and even songs, into their own repertoires. The collection skips over both Wolf and King (whose tracks are easily available elsewhere) in favor of many rarities, some making their debut appearance on CD. Four tracks from Pinetop Perkins, Joe Hill Louis, Earl Hooker (the first version of his "The Hucklebuck") and Guitar Red are previously unreleased. The majority of the selections date from 1953-'55, with two from 1952, one from 1956, and one (Frank Frost's classic "Jelly Roll King") from 1962. The remastering is clean and crisp throughout, and although the sound is naturally a little thin, the music is so full of life and excitement that you ignore the sonics and just get lost in the groove. Less Delta and more upbeat than most traditional blues, this is music for dancing and partying. Predating John Lee Hooker's work, Dr Ross' "Boogie Disease" and Little Junior Parker's "Feelin' Good" are virtual blueprints for what would later be associated with Hooker's trademarked sound. Lost artists like Eddie Snow and Guitar Red and a long forgotten track from Mr. Red Hot, Billy (the Kid) Emerson, are unearthed, but everything here is of remarkable quality. Even when the songs are simple retreads of blues themes, the artists inject so much enthusiasm into their performances that they become near classics. Six pages of liner notes from Bill Dahl help fill in the blanks and provide fascinating background material giving a detailed look into some of these relatively obscure tracks. It's not the final word on Sun's blues catalog, but, as of 2001, this is the best single-disc exploration of this vital period in American music and is an essential addition to any blues lover's collection.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz