Robert Santelli's latest work, The Big Book of Blues, first appeared in 1993 and returns in a revised and updated edition which should be helpful to some as a research tool. It offers a great list of artists, all entered alphabetically by the name most often associated with them (Howlin' Wolf under 'H' while Muddy Waters under 'W' - and so on). The list seems close to complete, but will certainly raise a few eyebrows with entries for Foghat, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, but omitting names like Sugar Ray Norcia, Arthur Gunter, and others does leave room for question.
Basically consisting of short biographical overviews which add little new light, an "Essential Listening" category is compiled that pulls together what the author feels are the required discs that belong in blues collections. Much like his The Best Of The Blues from 1997, which compiled his 101 Essential Albums, Santelli's list is subjective, as would be any writer's picks. Based on what he considers the prime examples from an artist's catalog, therein lies a problem as Lightnin' Hopkins has no less than 20 titles which are considered essential. Added to that craw is the fact that 11 of those titles are from the Collectables label. To further explain, he lists Lightnin's "The Herald Recordings - 1954" from that imprint, which contains only 17 of the 26 tracks Hopkins recorded for Herald, while he excludes the 2000 release on Ember which gathers all 26 titles. Under Charley Patton, the ultra-expensive "Complete Recorded Works" on Pea Vine, a Japanese concern, is listed, while the 3 individual CD's on the Document label are left out. Robert Nighthawk's "Live On Maxwell Street," from Rounder is chosen as essential, but there's no mention of Rooster's all-inclusive "And This Is Maxwell Street," a 3-disc set from 2000, which is the definitive edition.
These are a few points that needed clarification, and while not nitpicking, some inclusions, as well as exclusions, are indeed suspect. An exhaustive work of this sort is almost impossible nowadays with myriad labels leasing masters and issuing product, and labels do overlap what is on another disc. There is plenty of information packed inside the 500+ pages here, and much of it will be helpful to many. Where it does fall short leaving itself open to constructive criticism, is the "Essential Listening" category after each name; and omitting Arthur Gunter, who penned the classic "Baby Let's Play House," among others for the Excello label, in favor of Jay Miller, who ran Excello, is downright confusing! With the amount of bands and individual artists here, it surely makes for some fine reading, but when choosing one label's compilation over another, the best way to find what's essential for most is looking at the track listing and comparing it side by side, if possible, before making your purchase.
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