Rhythm and Blues Records
By M.D. Spenser
This exhilarating compilation covers the period almost from when the Blues were first recorded until Billboard magazine inaugurated its first sales chart for black music, the Harlem Hit Parade.
It runs from a rough and rhythmic field holler to the smooth tones of Lionel Hampton’s vibraphone, and encompasses along the way developments central to modern music: the introduction of slide guitar, the invention of the walking bass, the development of boogie woogie piano, the advent of swing.
This album is a distillation of a four-CD set; as such, it’s an exceptionally strong collection, each of the 25 tracks a discovery, a joy. The liner notes are worth the price in themselves: Well-written and entertaining, they detail not only the history of each artist, but the context of each song.
We hear John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson pioneer the single-note lead on harmonica, Tampa Red introduce the guitar-piano Blues combo, Jimmie Rodgers mix Blues and country in a way later taken up by Ray Charles and others.
Great names appear: Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, Count Basie. A number of these songs remain famous, too: 1929’s ‘Roll And Tumble Blues’ has been recorded most recently by Seasick Steve; 1940’s ‘Don’t You Lie To Me’ was covered by the Stones.
But some of the best stuff is more obscure: Arthur “Big Boy” Cruddup’s ‘Mean Ol’ Frisco’ is a treat, as is ‘I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water’ from The Cats and the Fiddle.
The most recent song on the album was recorded more than 65 years ago, but this is no dusty exercise in musicology. This is creative, vibrant music. Even today, it quickens the pulse.