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MusicHound Blues The Essential Album Guide

MusicHound Blues The Essential Album Guide

Edited by Leland Rucker

(513 pp, Visible Ink Press, $24.95)

This is the latest in a series of “Music Hound” books that cover rock, country, R&B, and jazz. Some three dozen contributors have examined the careers and recorded output of more than 600 musicians, rating their CDs from five bones (tops) to a woof! (the pits). Each artist has a brief biographical entry, a “what to buy” (the “essential” albums), a “what to buy next” and-sometimes-a “what to avoid,” which alone is worth the price of the book if it warns you off at least two CDs.

Muddy Waters, for example, has several five-bone CDs (e.g., His Best 1947-55 on MCA/Chess) plus a few to avoid (e.g., Electric Mud “woof!” also on MCA/Chess). While this system obviously works best for newer blues fans, those seeking to replace their wornout LPs with CDs can immediately learn what’s available.

The book’s up-to-the-minute approach means that one-CD wonders like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd share space with the usual cast of veterans (for example, Honeyboy Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Jr. Lockwood). While a batch of people whose blues connections are minimal are present-like Beck, Maria Muldaur, Candye Kane, Jon Spencer, Gillian Welch, and Popa Chubby, to name just a few-editor Leland Rucker (of Blues Access) says in his foreward that “We’ve tried to be as expansive as possible in our definition of blues.” What this means is zero room for one’s regional favorites-in my case such West Coasters as James Armstrong, Lloyd Jones, and Brenda Boykin-but also musicians like Joe Beard, Artie “Blues Boy” White, Nolan Struck, and Bugs Henderson.

Where this book really knocks all the others for a loop is with its compendious indexes, a 90-page miscellany that includes Web pages (definitely a first!), producers, radio stations, five-bone albums, music festivals, and my favorite-a “category” index that lumps together various “Slims” (Slim Harpo, Magic Slim), “Big Ones” (Big Bill Broonzy, Big Maybelle) and “No Relation” (Elmore and Skip James) among other fascinating groupings. This book is not only easy to read, it’s fun, too! An added bonus is a seven-track House of Blues sampler.

Originally Published