Various Artists

The Blues, Vol. 6 [Chess/MCA]

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Going beyond the slim selection and hits-biased format of previous volumes, Chess delivers with this 16-track collection of blues rarities from the '50s. And where label mainstays like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf dominated earlier discs, this go 'round features a balanced mix heavy on the obscure likes of Rocky Fuller and Blue Smitty; others, like Floyd Jones, Percy Mayfield, and Lowell Fulson, nicely fill the middle ground in between the Chicago masters and the more countrified singers. This is especially true of Mayfield, whose urbane and swinging style was removed in many ways from both Fuller's back-porch simplicity and Waters' fulsome sexual innuendo. Other low-profile highlights come courtesy of the Little Walter-inspired guitarist John Brim and singers Alberta Adams and Willie Mabon. Chipping in on the A-list side of things, stars like Walter, Memphis Minnie, and Sonny Boy Williamson turn in a fine mix of master takes and alternate cuts. Taking in Delta ramblings, city grit, and R&B's after-hours sophistication, this disc of rarities qualifies as the one volume in the blues series that aficionados will not want to miss.

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