Various Artists

The Bluesville Years, Vol. 1: Big Blues Honks and Wails

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For almost a decade Bluesville operated as a subsidiary label to the indie jazz pioneer Prestige Records. With a chaotic catalog, they issued everything from barrelhouse piano players working with hipster jazz combos to semi-pro street singers to tons of Lightnin' Hopkins albums. What we have here are the beginnings of the modern blues album as we know it. The Bluesville label captured that awkward moment in time where the blues first lost its commercial restraints and started making music of a different power and a nice cross section of it is here on all four of these volumes. There's a decidedly acoustic air to everything here, even the wilder Chicago sides. If you've been brought up on a steady blues album diet of electric guitars and heavy drumming, some of this will sound almost quaint by comparison, but it's well worth a listen. The first entry in the series, Big Blues, Honks and Wails features tracks by piano giants Sunnyland Slim and Roosevelt Sykes and uptown blues belters Mildred Anderson, Jimmy Witherspoon and Al Smith paired with small, jazz oriented combos with sax legends King Curtis, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Clifford Scott honkin' away.

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