Various Artists

Various Artists
Crucial Blues Series: Rockin’, Guitar , and Acoustic Blues

Alligator Records ALCD 122, ALCD 123, ALCD 124

By Karen Nugent
June 2007

Alligator Records has released three more editions of its bargain-priced ($7.98 each) Crucial Blues series.

Designed as starter records for newer blues fans, the albums offer a taste of various artists and styles recorded by Alligator during the last 36 years. There are six earlier collections.

On this set, the oldest track is “No, No Baby” by Son Seals, released in 1976, and the newest is Coco Montoya’s “Last Dirty Deal” which just came out this year. Seals’ song is on the guitar disc, while Montoya’s is on the rocker.

The series includes some of Alligator’s most popular artists, including Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, Shemekia Copeland, and The Holmes Brothers.

It also has superstars such as Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Sonny Terry, Carey and Lurrie Bell, and Nappy Brown, all on the acoustic disc, which is my favorite because it has the purist blues sound. Although the late Luther Allison, a blues guitar superhero, leads off the More Crucial Guitar Blues disc with his wonderful “Will It Ever Change?”

The second track on Crucial Acoustic Blues, “Oreo Cookie Blues” features Lonnie Mack, joined by Stevie Ray Vaughan, in a rare non-electric performance. That’s followed by the Bells, father and son, with the recently-departed Carey singing playing a bouncy harp and Lurrie on guitar on “Stop Running Around.” The fourth cut, “Down in the Alley” has a moaning Nappy Brown with Bob Margolin shining on his forte: Muddy Waters-like Delta guitar.

Another highlight is “Sloppy Drunk” performed by Ann Rabson of Saffire and the Uppity Blues Women. How often do you hear a woman sing that song?

One of the best cuts on the acoustic disc is “Evil On My Mind,” with a screaming Johnny Winters positively excelling on fast, slide guitar.

Tracks by Cephas & Wiggins, Sonny Terry, Koko Taylor with Keb’ Mo’, John Jackson and Corey Jackson take you right back to a front porch on a hot Delta day in the 1930s; and the disc is rounded out by some boogie-woogie piano by Johnny Jones (“The Dirty Dozen”), and a nice growly “Baby Bee” by Kenny Neal and Billy Branch.

Montoya’s song leads off the Crucial Rockin’ Blues disc, with a moody, emotional feel. On this disc, I like “Golden Rule” by Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, a fast, danceable blues. Johnny Winter pops up again, this time doing “Route 90” a real 1950s-style rock-and-roller that sounds just like the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace.” Lonnie Mack and Stevie Ray Vaughan are on this disc, as well, with Vaughn sounding more like his electric self, on “Hound Dog Man.” Dave Hole smokes on slide on “Phone Line” as does Guitar Shorty on “I’m Gonna Leave You.”

Oddly enough, The Holmes Brothers, usually more acoustically inclined, are on the rocker disc doing “Run Myself Out of Town.”

But a few of the tracks fall very loosely into the blues genre.

Besides Luther Allison and Son Seals, the third disc, More Crucial Guitar Blues, has a super version of “The Love You Lost On The Way” by Rhode Island’s own Roomful of Blues; a fast “No, No Baby” by Albert Collins; and a nice, bluesy “You Got Your Hooks In Me” by Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Lucky Peterson excels on “Don’t Cloud Up On Me,” and Lonnie Brooks gets into a slow, gut-wrenching blues mode on a live version of “You Know What My Body Needs.”

The Bay Area sound of Elvin Bishop is showcased on “Shady Lane.”

Each disc has 12 or 13 songs, and they offer enough variety of styles (Texas, Chicago, Delta, Piedmont, and West Coast) to cover all the bases, from quiet finger-picking to blasting electrified sound, although a true blues student would need to listen to the Chess classics as well.

The Crucial Blues liner notes have photographs and information about the original discs the songs were taken from. As usual, Bruce Iglauer, Alligator’s dedicated president, has put together a thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable collection.

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