24 December 2007

The Rough Guide to the Blues

From the hardship suffered by black sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta nearly a hundred years ago, the blues, a deep soulful music full of passion and rhythm, was born. Featuring a collection of legendary blues heroes recorded throughout the twentieth century, The Rough Guide to the Blues tells the story of how the blues began, developed and eventually became the roots of rock ’n’ roll.

Released in conjunction with the Rough Guide book of the same name and compiled by Nigel Williamson – author of the book and highly esteemed music journalist and biographer - The Rough Guide to the Blues is a strikingly comprehensive overview of this pivotal musical genre. From the early recordings of the Mississippi Delta to the dynamic rhythms of ‘50s Chicago blues and beyond, the album is an exhaustive ‘who’s who’ of the most significant names to have emerged from this heritage industry.

Starting in the 1920s with the earliest recorded blues artists, the album unfolds chronologically, opening with Mamie Smith – the first of the red-hot blues mamas – and ending with the supremely talented African bluesman, Ali Farka TourĂ© and a track from his 2006 album Savane, recorded just before he died and widely revered as his greatest masterpiece.

Artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie and Blind Willie McTell represent the harsh earthy sound of the Delta, not forgetting the momentous influence of Robert Johnson, expressed here in his track ‘Crossroad Blues’.

Moving on from the plantations of the south and the early sounds of the bottleneck guitar, the recording heads north to Chicago, where a more urban style of blues popularized. Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf let rip with the blistering electric guitar sounds of 1950s’ Chicago, while T-Bone Walker represents the West Coast blues, based on an after-hours sound where singers crooned rather than shouted.

The foothold that blues gained in Europe is represented here by artists such as Elmore James, a hugely influential figure on the British blues boom of the 1960s and Sonny Boy Williamson, who moved to Britain in the 1960s to ensconce himself in the adulation that a new generation of fans was ready to bestow on its blues heroes. Furthermore, the album would not have been complete without tracks from blues giants John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and Buddy Guy and their acute influence cannot be stressed enough. In fact, Eric Clapton always maintained that the success he had with Cream owed largely to the music of Buddy Guy.

The evolution of rock n’ roll and its debt to blues is perhaps best represented by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s track ‘That’s All Right’. This song was recorded by Elvis Presley on his first session for Sun Records in Memphis in 1954.

The final track on the album is Ali Farka TourĂ©’s ‘Erdi’, an acknowledgement that the blues can be traced back to Africa. Nowhere can this be heard more clearly than in the music of our late, great Malian guitarist. A reflective and poignant close to this extensive anthology.