Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Blues and Beyond

[2 November 2009]

By Andrew Zender

Although the blues permeate through just about any form of music heard today, it can be heard as a glaring reference or a subtle slip in the mix. Its very nature as our musical architecture often allows for fascinating genre-blends and collaborations, and in others, it can be a confusing collision of sounds. By its namesake, The Rough Guide to Blues and Beyond, indicates perhaps an easily digestible and accessible entry point to the raw, expressive power of the blues; however, the music here is filtered through many genres with mixed results.

Chris Thomas King’s hip-hop opener “Mississippi Kkkrossroads” samples a basic Delta blues slide-guitar lick over a tightly programmed rhythm, but the juxtaposition of an artificial beat and an open-tuned National guitar comes across as a mangled marriage of musical styles. On the other hand, Outrageous Cherry’s fuzzed-out, slightly psychedelic take on “Lord Have Mercy on Me”, replete with braying guitars and thumping drums, tops the established masters of the juke joint, the North Mississippi All-Stars, who are also featured here with “Shake (Yo Mama)”. Robert Plant and Justin Adams’ “Win My Train Fare Home (If Ever Get Lucky)”, perhaps one of the best tracks on the compilation, is a slightly disorienting, hazy crawl through a swirling Delta drone. When stacked up alongside Corey Harris’ reggae-tinged “Mami Wata”, Tangle Eye’s R&B slow-jam, “Parchman Blues”, funk-soul excursions and West African jams, the music on The Rough Guide to Blues and Beyond ultimately creates an uneven listening experience and fails to live up to its title.

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