Various Artists

The Mercury Blues Story: Midwest Blues, Vol. 1

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The Italian Comet label continues to repackage American blues and R&B via their Universe imprint, releasing sumptuous sets stuffed with music, all with booklets that detail the recordings and musicians involved. Here the label turns its attention to the Chicago blues label Mercury, dedicating two volumes to the company's Midwestern artists, with the music presented in strictly chronological order. Midwest Blues, Vol. 1 covers the years 1945 through April 1949, the second volume taking the story through 1955, all recorded in Chicago, St. Louis, or Kansas City. Kicking off in the label's hometown, the Four Jumps of Jive, featuring bassist Willie Dixon, offer up a stripped-back boogie-woogie, its sparse arrangement far removed from T-Bone Walker's "She Is Going to Ruin Me," a sumptuous number backed by Karl Young & His Orchestra that boogies straight into jazz. "Ruin" throws the spotlight on the brass, while "My Baby Left Me" highlights Walker's emotive guitar work (as well as his equally superb vocals, of course). Pianist Albert Ammons & His Rhythm Kings are also "Doin' the Boogie Woogie," before packing up their bags for the "Suitcase Blues." No wonder Sippie Wallace is singing the "Bedroom Blues" at the thought of Ammons and company walking out the door, leaving her waiting by the phone and emotively begging the splendid band to "Buzz Me." Dinah Washington offers a simple solution to her problem: get them drunk on "Joy Juice," on a showstopper of a song. Big Bill Broonzy & His Fat Four nod agreement from deep in their own cups, proclaiming "I Love My Whiskey," one of five delectable numbers Broonzy delivers up within. But all this drunken revelry meets with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's disapproval, for his own whiskey-drinkin' mama has given him the "Railroad Porter's Blues." St. Louis Jimmy is also wagging a finger at his own party girl: "Shame on You Baby," he soulfully remonstrates. He may declare that "I'm Not Satisfied," but fans of Sunnyland Slim will be sated with the pianist's fabulous performance on the latter number. Over in Kansas City, they're offering up a fuller and slicker sound, with a pair of top-notch orchestras showcasing the vocal talents of Julia Lee and the lesser-known Myra Taylor. And the beauty of this set is that, while fawning over the stars, it also gives space to those names that may not ring a bell. Blues, boogies, jump, and jive -- all are highlighted within this superb 26-song set, a true archival treasure.

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