Various Artists

The Blues, Vol. 2 [Chess/MCA]

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Only Chess Records could issue a blues compilation so laden with standards without even venturing beyond its own vault. This no-frills 1963 collection (later reissued by MCA) celebrates every blues powerhouse Chess ever had -- including Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Little Walter -- and packs into 31 minutes what feels like a motherlode of rock & roll roots. Countless reissuings of this material over the years have perhaps rendered The Blues, Vol. 2 a cheap relic in the current blues market; MCA, after all, gave the Chess catalog a celebrity facelift with the advent of the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection series in 1997. (Blues listeners who demand extensive documentation with their CD purchases are advised to go there.) But if you can ferret out a copy of The Blues, Vol. 2 -- check the vinyl bins, the discount bins, and the public libraries -- it's certainly worth the effort, if nothing else than to realize that the blues don't need fancy packaging to keep you riveted.

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