Various Artists: Get the Blues!

Various Artists
Get the Blues!

I used to like 99 cent samplers, and perhaps boasted publicly too often about my once secret thrill of finding them. But with inflation, slagflation, slumpflation, recession, hunkering down, oversaturation, or whatever the heck is happening to the economy these days, those yummy 99 cent samplers with 8 or 9 tracks are certain to have gone the way of the ten cent hamburger. Wouldn’t you know it, a music cartel got into the act and their sole purpose in banding together was to collect twice as much money — for twice as many songs.

The BMA (Blues Music Association) joined with NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) to produce this compilation which debuted on Billboard’s Blues Album Charts at No. 1. The CD lists for $1.98 (the digit is placed correctly) for music by 18 different blues artists, all profits going to the NARM Scholarship Fund and a fund for promoting blues and jazz. Do the multiplication and that might be inflation for you, but do the division — that’s cheaper than trying the songs out on a juke box, so there’s no wonder Get the Blues! shot to the top of the charts and is already in its second pressing.

At that giveaway price, anyone who wants to hear the blues or wants to introduce someone else to blues, or indeed just any shameless blues hog, can pick up this CD and get 70-minutes of blues showing the current and historical directions of the music. Pick it up they can, thanks to reliable distribution by Rykodisc. Get the Blues! (and you’d better) collects together a variety of blues styles and artists. If the listener is tantalized and wants to hear more, the compilation clearly directs to the artist’s album from which the music was culled.

With 18 artists, there’s barely space here to list the performers and song titles, much less provide a window into their work. There’s a good draw from the well-respected legends who had honed their blues chops for longer than most of us have been alive. Honeyboy Edwards plays acoustic Delta guitar and harmonica on “Wind Howlin’ Blues”, R.L. Burnside gives a taste of Northern Mississippi on “Miss Maybelle”, the high-flying Koko Taylor roughs it up on “Don’t Let Me Catch You (With Your Drawers Down)”, and the great Sunnyland Slim pounds out piano on “You Can’t Have It All”.

The smooth bluesy soul of Robert Cray and his band stretches out in “Baby’s Arms”, acoustic blues guitar virtuoso Rory Block branches out into a slow torch vocal by “Talkin’ Bout My Man,” and even Stevie Ray Vaughn provides a subdued boogie on “Pride and Joy” (same title, but not the same song as Marvin Gaye’s). Keb’Mo’ is here, too, slinking through “The Door”.

The disc shows the youngsters who are coming up into their own with the blues, with representation by “Little” Lucky Peterson who has grown up from a child blues prodigy into an adult blues prodigy and powers out the blues bounce “Remember the Day”, Johnny Copeland’s talented offspring Shemekia leads in with her unforgettable “ring-a-ling-a-ling” of “2 A.M.”, and McKinley Morganfield’s own dear boy Big Bill Morganfield brings back the old Chicago sound he was steeped in with “Highway 69”.

They got the old blues, they got the middle blues, they got the young blues. They got the black blues, and they got the white blues. And they got blues about everything in between. Blues-rocker Walter Trout spent decades as an ace sideman, playing guitar behind the likes of John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex. In 1981, he was also tapped to replace the late Bob Hite in Canned Heat. His “Ride ‘Till I’m Satisfied” is organ-heavy and rocks on for quite awhile. Delbert McClinton’s shuffling “Baggage Claim” is an easy-going macho strut heavy on the double entendre and easy promises of hard breathing.

They got the new-to-me blues. E.G. Kight “The Georgia Songbird” has the first success story from the compilation. Her appearance on the sultry “Let the Healing Begin” on this successful anthology clinched a record deal for her. Backed by a club combo that is skin-tight, and surprising with a steady supply of original riffs, keep your eye out for her.

They got the old-time new spooky blues. Otis Taylor’s first CD Blue-Eyed Monster and his When Negroes Walked the Earth each cast an uneasy spell on the blues world. There are times when a distant train whistle sounds spooky, like a ghost howling. That’s what “My Soul’s in Louisiana” is about, a lost innocent soul explaining how his soul came to be in Louisiana when his body’s in Tennessee. A very eerie tune with strong acoustic guitar rhythm mixed with simple bass. If you can stand an occasional trip to the darker side of the blues, Otis Taylor is definitely worthy of searching out.

They got the blues that are so good. From the opening notes of “The Salt of My Tears” by Roomful of Blues, the engine-room rhythm section chugs relentlessly and the horn drenched backdrop pumps up the lead singer’s soulful voice until the all male chorus comes up. This was a trip down memory lane even for a new song, and I genuinely had forgotten until now how much I always enjoyed the big rich soul sound of the best blues band that ever hailed from Providence, Rhode Island — the Roomful of Blues.

Likewise, the Bay Area’s own Tommy Castro. He jumps straight in to “Lucky in Love” with his power-chords (name that band!) and a horn section that sounds like they went straight crazy in the old Mussel Shoals studio. This song brings back the best of the blues-rock sound of the early ’70s, a genre drenched with rambunctiousness and sheer physicality, and is fully complete with a rhythm shift towards the end that leads into a freaky sax fadeout. Really oughtta be on radio.

Johnnie Taylor was on radio. He was a major soul attraction and mainstay with Stax during their glory years. He had a prolific R&B career and an amazing run of hit records, 11 made it into the Billboard top 40 pop charts. One of the last remaining original soul men, Taylor started out with the Soul Stirrers and his singing here is still a bit reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s. Here, the “Philosopher of Soul” Johnnie Taylor and his backup female chorus tells you what to do with the “Last Two Dollars”, one dollar’s for the bus fare, and one dollar’s for the juke box to hear some blues.

Lately, major labels have been blaming the decline in sales of albums by their artists on a lack of good music. There’s plenty of good music out there on labels like Blind Pig, Alligator, Northern Blues, Earwig, Rounder, or Bullseye if you Get the Blues! “The Philosopher of Sole” recommends saving on the busfare to Get the Blues! instead. This one’s hotter than a two dollar pistol.