Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Various Artists - When the Levee Breaks: Mississippi Delta Blues 1929-1941 [Discs 1&2] (JSP, 2007)

This four disc budget boxed set from the English JSP label collects mostly rare pre-war blues sides. One of the interesting aspects of this collection is the diversity of the delta blues in this period. People often speak of the delta blues as if it is just one homogeneous genre, but this collection shows that it encompassed proto juke bands, solo singers, piano stompers and slide guitarists. Some of the big historical names are represented on the first couple of discs with songs from Son House and Robert Johnson standing out amongst the rare and obscure 78's. Considering the age and the rarity of the material, the sound quality is surprisingly good. I'm not sure if JSP did their own re-masters or relied on the work of others, but either way the music sounds good, all things considered. I wish that the liner notes could have been beefed up a little bit, with just a scant few pages in each CD, there was room for improvement, but for a budget title, it is certainly acceptable. Apart from Johnson and House, the most interesting tracks on the first couple of discs include some excellent slide guitar and vocals from Charlie McCoy on "Last Time Blues" and the title track "When the Levee Breaks." Another legend-to-be, Robert Lockwood checks in with a fine "Take a Little Walk With Me" and the Mississippi Jook Band plays a fascinating mix of piano blues and hokum. So far this is a fine collection, and fans of pre-war blues will no doubt find a lot to enjoy.

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