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Music Review: Various Artists – This is the Blues: Volume One and Two

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The blues genre has been graced with many greats over the years — from Robert Johnson to B.B. King to Stevie Ray Vaughan — and to honor them all would arguably take hundreds of volumes. This is the Blues: Volume One and Volume Two focus mainly on two artists — John Lee Hooker and original Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green — whose songs make up 18 of the 30 tracks on these volumes.

Volume One starts out in fine fashion with Jeff Beck tackling Hooker’s “Hobo Blues.” Earl Green takes the lead vocals on this funky workout while Beck coaxes seemingly impossible sounds from his axe. Even in his fifth decade of playing, Beck still amazes. Hooker’s daughter, Zakiya, delivers a spirited version of her father’s “I Want to Hug You,” which features the late Johnnie Johnson, legendary pianist for Chuck Berry among others on piano. Jack Bruce reunites with his ex-BBM band mate Gary Moore for a down and dirty version of Hooker’s “I’m in the Mood,” with Moore’s fiery lead playing conjuring up memories of that other famous guitarist Bruce worked with in the 1960s.

Green’s “Black Magic Woman” gets a fine reading from Larry McCray, blending elements of the Fleetwood Mac and Santana versions with a touch of funk for good measure while Vince Converse and Innes Sibun trade some tasty leads on a hard-rocking “Rattlesnake Shake.” Luther Grosvenor and Jess Roden deliver a laid-back “Crying Won’t Bring You Back,” with a feel not unlike the Rolling Stone’s cover of “Harlem Shuffle.”

Speaking of the Stones, ex-guitarist Mick Taylor shows why he is considered a master slide guitarist with his 10-minute cover of Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” while his former bandmate, Mick Jagger, offers his underrated harmonica skills to his brother Chris’ take of Lonnie Johnson’s “Racketeer Blues,” a song that would not be out of place on Beggars Banquet.

The late Rory Gallagher opens Volume Two with a haunting version of Green’s “Leaving Town Blues” that features Gallagher on vocals, guitar, and mandolin while Jack Bruce returns on bass and harmonica on a spirited romp through Cyril Davies' “Send For Me.” Green is honored again with Savoy Brown’s acoustic version of the classic “Stop Messin’ Round” and Green himself appears on guitar and vocals alongside Nigel Watson in an authentic Delta Blues take of Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues.” Southside Johnny’s fine vocals make “Baby When the Sun Goes Down” another highlight of disc two with horns that recall those on the old Stax records.

John Lee Hooker makes Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” his own with an even heavier blues interpretation than its writer’s and backed by a blues super group featuring Booker T. Jones on keyboards and the late Bruce Gary on drums. Hooker’s playing and singing shine on the track. The CD finishes with Hooker’s appropriately titled “I’m Leaving,” which features T.S. McPhee on guitar and vocals and Dick Heckstall-Smith with some spirited saxophone playing.

While not all encompassing by any means, This is the Blues: Volume One and Volume Two offer not only a nice introduction to some legendary artists — most notably Peter Green and John Lee Hooker — but to the artists giving the tributes themselves, some well known, some not as much. As a primer for someone getting into the blues, this may make a new listener delve deeper into the genre and for that reason it is worth a look.

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