Various Artists

The Aristocrat of the Blues: The Best of Aristocrat Records

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The 51 songs here represent some of the highlights from the vaults of Aristocrat, the precursor to the Chess label, but to get the rarities by St. Louis Jimmy, Forest City Joe, Little Johnny Jones, and Robert Nighthawk, listeners should be prepared to buy 25 Muddy Waters songs they likely already own. Actually, despite that drawback, this collection is fascinating for the perspective it gives to the history of Chess Records and the development of Chicago blues between 1947 and 1950. The earliest tracks are '40s big-band-influenced R&B: the Five Blazes, featuring pianist/singer/songwriter Ernie Harper; the ominous "Ice Man Blues" and the raunchy "Fishin' Pole" by Tom Archia, fronting a sax-dominated outfit with Jo Jo Adams and Sheba Griffin on vocals, respectively; "Boogie Woogie Blues" by Clarence Samuels; and "Bilbo Is Dead" by Andrew Tibbs. The Chess sound as we've come to know it arrives with Sunnyland Slim, and the guitar blues that Chess became famous for doesn't show up until the Muddy Waters tracks "Gypsy Woman," "Little Anna Mae," etc. Waters is nearly omnipresent, represented by 25 songs of his own here, and playing on many of the others. Of the rest, Robert Nighthawk, a one-time mentor to Waters, has six songs represented here, while Forest City Joe has one ("Memory of Sonny Boy"). Forrest Sykes has one song, a rip-roaring piano instrumental, and St. Louis Jimmy Oden gets two. The quality throughout is crisp, sharp, finely detailed, and loud, with each song remastered in 20-bit high-definition sound, making them superior to any other CD package of this material. Given the familiarity of the Waters' songs, however, it might have been wiser to just do a three-CD Aristocrat box with a broader cross-section of the label's output.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:41
2 2:20
3 2:28
4 2:29
5 3:20
6 2:38
7 3:18
9 3:05
10 3:05
11 3:15
12 3:17
13 2:49
14 2:45
15 2:38
16 3:03
17 2:57
18 3:22
19 3:09
20 3:10
21 2:39
22 2:54
24 2:54
25 3:01
26 2:31
blue highlight denotes track pick