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23 March 2004

Various Artists, Putumayo Presents American Blues (Putumayo)
This is a whole different slice of American blues and a wonderful bringing together of artists who have remained true to the roots. As such, this collection ends up feeling a more genuine representation of what's going on than nearly any other compilation I can think of off hand. There are some real gems, even just jumping in with Arthur Adams & B.B. King's sultry "Get Next to Me". Adams's honey sweet voice is appealing beyond description, and his muted popping electric slide guitar work only adds to his charm. A modern (first words are "Waiting on the corner with my cell phone in my hand"), urban blues that knows where it came from and isn't at all ashamed to reference older blues lyrics and slang.

The great Ruth Brown is a living reminder that the blues is about the beauty of the human voice telling stories of getting through mighty rough times. She walks the floor hard and confidently on "Good Day for the Blues", a proud woman determined to find work and work for a living to support the family who depends on her. Henry Gray, who made his mark decades past as Howlin' Wolf's old school pianist and is now regarded as an elder statesman of Chicago-style blues, shows he's lost none of his bounce on "How Could You Do It". Accompanied by a swinging band with bullet-miked harp, Gray will make you throw aside your cane and jump up and dance.

If there's a rarity to treasure, it's the chance to again hear Sugar Pie Desanto on "Hello, San Francisco (Part 1)". Sugar Pie was given her name by Johnny Otis who helped her record her first album in 1955, and she's one of the feistiest grand dames performing the blues today. But it's Solomon Burke powering out his immensely soulful "None of Us Are Free" that is worth the price of the whole disc. Accompanied by swooping organ and gospel-style harmonies, his words are a heartfelt and inspiring call for compassion and action. "There are people still in darkness / And they just can't see the light / If you don't say it's wrong / Then that says it's right". Closing the disc, this remarkable song (and there hasn't been one like it for decades) gives a person an awful lot to continue thinking about. There are 14 tracks, including some by younger artists who will eventually be carrying the torch. But for this listener, the people mentioned above contribute the highpoints that make this disc worth owning. But you should get it just to hear Solomon Burke's "None of Us Are Free".
      — Barbara Flaska

.: posted by Editor 10:47 AM