Album: Various artists

Alan Lomax Blues Songbook, Rounder
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The Independent Culture

Just as there are, it is said, only seven basic stories, there are a few basic blues images - a small bagful of dusty brooms and black cat's bones, hellhounds and horses, worried men and cheatin' women - that blues singers have adapted to their own ends.

Just as there are, it is said, only seven basic stories, there are a few basic blues images - a small bagful of dusty brooms and black cat's bones, hellhounds and horses, worried men and cheatin' women - that blues singers have adapted to their own ends. And there's probably no better place to encounter them than on this two-CD compilation of field recordings made by the blues archivist Alan Lomax, who spent five decades lugging recorders round America, documenting work songs, prison hollers and boisterous boogies. In so doing, he was instrumental in the discovery and dissemination of such legends as Leadbelly, Son House, Muddy Waters, Blind Willie McTell, Big Bill Broonzy and Mississippi Fred McDowell, all featured here alongside such arcane characters as Tangle Eye, whose a cappella prison moan "Tangle Eye Blues" is one of this collection's most moving entries, and Lucious Curtis, here captured on a 1940 recording of the 19th-century murder ballad "Stagolee". Elsewhere, three separate recordings of "Joe Turner" enable the listener to track how the eponymous protagonist changes to accommodate different singers' needs, metamorphosing from feared penal officer to departed lover to saintly "mercy man". But the most compelling cut is surely Skip James's mesmerising "Cherry Ball Blues", an exquisite blending of light, haunting falsetto and knuckle-knotting guitar.

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