No one less than Bob Dylan penned the lyric that stated, "nobody can sing the blues, like Blind Willie McTell." McTell's '20s and '30s work reminds one slightly of Robert Johnson's work in the '30s, with notable differences. While McTell has the same dexterity as a guitarist, combining single-note runs with rhythmic aplomb, his singing is never as shrill or as tortured as Johnson. Still, it's easy to imagine that Johnson might have picked up something in timing and delivery from "Death Cell Blues." For many listeners, this less intense approach will make Blind Willie's classic sides more accessible than his better-known counterpart. In fact, McTell, overall, is a more rounded performer, ranging from down-and-out blues like "Mama, Tain't Long fo' Day" to humorous fare like "Three Women Blues." The Best of Blind Willie McTell captures these and many other moods over the course of 23 sides from the bluesman's heyday. The variety, in fact, makes McTell much more compelling over the album's 70-minute running time than a singer like Blind Lemon Jefferson. The best-known piece here is "Statesboro Blues," a song later written large by the Allman Brothers on Live at Fillmore East. McTell's version is much more down-to-earth and immediate, highlighted by a soulful vocal and intense guitar work. The Best of Blind Willie McTell easily verifies the Dylan lyric, and is a great introduction to a fine blues singer and guitarist.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.