By now if you know anything about the blues, you will know this is the Year Of The Blues. As declared by US Congress, 2003 is the centennial anniversary of when W.C. Handy first heard the blues. For the second half of those 100 years, Bob Koester's Chicago-based Delmark Records has been recording and releasing some of the finest in blues and jazz. Perhaps you were called to the blues thanks to this label? Perhaps you have never heard of it?
As America's oldest independently owned blues and jazz label, the catalog used to compile this 2 CD collection was extensive. How odd that each disc plays for only 65 minutes. There are 33 songs (including 7 previously un-released tracks) whose recording dates range from 1939 to 2003. Of course blues dominates throughout but you will also hear vaudeville, 50s R&B, gospel, soul, swing and boogie woogie piano. Bill Dahl's liner notes are so well researched he had to list his sources. You won't find a detailed history of the label here. Dahl chooses to focus his attention on the artists who record for Koester. Plenty of historical photos embellish the liner and Kevin Belford's cover illustration is worthy of framing.
Here is just a splash of what you get. Zora Young's throaty vocals on "Learned My Lesson", Frank Morey's hillbilly foot-stomp "Let It Roll", "I Had A Dream" by the reigning Chicago blues king Willie Kent, Jesse Fortune's tantalizing vocals on "Dark Is the Night", Lurrie Bell's lethal Chicago blues guitar on "Got My Eyes On You", Karen Carroll's huff and gruff voice on "Help Me" and barrelhouse piano courtesy of Speckled Red from Delmark's very first blues release. Heavier doses are provided by a more succinct group of musicians. Syl Johnson is one of the last remaining greats from soul's heyday and his voice still bears an impact. On "I Like Your Style" he is reunited with the Hi Records rhythm section including mandatory Memphis-style horns. Recorded in 1950, the sounds of Little Walter cannot be re-captured even with the highest of modern technology. On "Rollin' And Tumblin'", he belts gnarls it out while Muddy Waters eggs him on via moans and hollers. Albert Ammons' "Boogie Woogie Prayer" is the finest piano you will hear from any era. He joins forces with 2 other ivory players to form a stalking tornado. Pure blues oozes from the notes of "So Hard To Leave You Alone" and drips down your speakers creating a puddle on your floor. This Carey Bell tune completely defines what blues was, is and will be. Johnny B. Moore is Chicago blues incarnate in the modern world. His notes cut deep on "Broke Man" while his voice is scruff and to the point.
Despite the single weakness of not lasting long enough, you get a great representation of the full gamut of blues. Still, what you hear the most is authentic, gut-bucket Chicago blues -- not the fabricated stuff that the tourists go for. If electric blues of the old-school Chicago tradition is your thing, rush out and get this real blues CD and start celebrating Delmark's 50th. A golden anniversary for a record company is a significant milestone when times are good. The facts that we live: in an era of economic uncertainty; in a time when downloading music is preferred over paying for it and in an era where blues music sales are scarce makes this particular anniversary an all around amazing one. Congratulations Mr. Koester.
For CDs, booking and information, contact: Delmark Records, 4121 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL 60618 USA Website: www.delmark.com
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