The Italian Comet Record company continue to lovingly repackage American blues via their Universe imprint, releasing sumptuous sets stuffed with music, each with booklets that detail the recordings and musicians involved. Now the label has turned its attention to the Chicago blues label Mercury. Sensibly, the Italians carve up the U.S., dedicating two volumes to each region of the country, although in their case they seem to be as geographically challenged as most Americans. "Southwest blues" refers not to the greater American southwest, but the southwestern segment of the blues scene, running along the Gulf of Mexico coastal states between Arkansas and Texas. The two CDs are sequenced chronologically, with volume one spanning 1945-1951 and volume two picking up that latter year and continuing through 1955. Lee Graves, who closed the first CD, opens this one with a swinging boogie, an exuberant number that would warm George W. Bush's cockles, "I'm from Texas." The backing band, the Rhythm Kings, switch their style around for powerful singer L.C. "Lightnin' Jr." Williams, sweeping into R&B style, then promptly turn around and offer up a quartet of deep Delta-flavored blues as backing for singer/guitarist Smokey Hogg. And this seems to be their preferred mode of playing, for they provide similar-styled accompaniments for both Violet Hall and John Hogg. That is, however, until they pair up with Elmore "Elmo" Nixon, when they begin shifting back to R&B. The Kings' bassist, Donald Cooks, is the sole accompaniment for singer/guitarist Lightnin' Hopkins, who creatively adds his own percussion via his tapshoes. While most blues singers tend toward the personal, Hopkins leaves his own troubles briefly behind to note the "Sad News from Korea," a potent reminder that even in the heart of Texas, war hits home. Luther Stoneham, in contrast, doesn't need assistance from the Kings or anyone else; his powerful vocals and emotive guitar speak for themselves. Stoneham represents the roots of blues, in a scene that was fast shifting and still evolving, spread now across the south, up the Mississippi, and flowering both east and west. This CD tells just part of that story, but what a chapter it is.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene