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Various Artists: The Best of the Blues Tradition, Vol. 1

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Best Of The Blues Tradition, Vol. 1 (Tradition 3001)-this excellent 3-CD set profiles blues masters Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Big Bill Broonzy. Remastered with top-flight noise reduction, it is an essential addition to any country blues connoisseur’s collection. Accompanied only by Luke “Long Gone” Miles on backup vocals, Hopkins digs deep into a Texas blues bag on recordings from 1959, including classics like “Bluebird, Bluebird,” “See See Rider” and “Go Down Old Hannah.” The depth of feeling he conjures up on “Worrying My Mind” and “Prison Blues Come Down On Me” is astounding. In the latter stages of his career, Lightnin’ made some ill-advised attempts at courting a rock audience. This, thankfully, is not one of them. McDowell is spotlighted in a stark, haunting program of deep Delta blues stylings performed in 1969 exclusively on electric guitar. The sound of his bottleneck (and sometimes an apocryphal steakbone) sliding across the strings is ferocious, playful and mesmerizing, particularly on “The Train I Ride,” “Big Fat Mama” and “You Got To Move,” a tune later covered by the Rolling Stones. Broonzy is heard doing his urbane thing in recordings from 1951 while in the midst of a European tour. Originally released in France, Treat Me Right triggered Broonzy’s comeback as king of the blues in the hearts of European blues fans. Included are great unaccompanied renditions of the Broonzy classic “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and the Tennessee Ernie Ford signature tune, “Sixteen Tons.” Sonny Terry guests on “St. Louis Blues” and Broonzy disciple Josh White appears on “In The Evenin’.” This here is blues so blue it’s purple.

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