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Various Artists: Blues Classics

MCA has its pick of the catalogs of Chess, ABC, Decca, Duke, Peacock and pre-1932 Vocalion and Brunswick and has made a Valiant effort to package the best of them in this three-CD, three and one-half hour compilation. Of the 72 tracks selected, there is a batch of genuine blues classics-primarily on the last two discs that span 1940-69 and contain Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” “Long Distance Call,” “Hoochie Coochie Man” and his 1960 Newport Jazz Festival version of “Got My Mojo Working;” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” “Killing Floor,” “Red Rooster” and “I Ain’t Superstitious;” and Little Walter’s “Juke” and “My Babe.”

Throw in a couple of fine Sonny Boy Williamsons and Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” (which outsold Wolf’s version), Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” and Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” and you’ve skimmed the best. That’s not to say there isn’t a terrific amount of excellent blues left, however. Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five show up twice (no “Caldonia,” though); Dinah Washington (with Lionel Hampton’s Septet) knocks out “Evil Gal Rules;” Bobby Blue Bland (with Wayne Bennett) gives us “Stormy Monday Blues” and Gatemouth Brown roars through “Okie Dokie Stomp.”

Disc One is the surprise. Spanning 1927-40, its 25 acoustic selections ought to intrigue the “unplugged” contingent with such genuine, hard-to-find classics as Leroy Carr’s “How Long-How Long Blues,” Pine Top Smith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” (both 1928) and Georgia White’s rollicking “The Blues Ain’t Nothin’ But…???.” Another treat is “Mr. Johnson Swing” with Lonnie Johnson and Roosevelt Sykes. While this collection is a treat for the ears, it comes in a distant second to the Smithsonian’s four-CD Mean Old World.

Originally Published