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Music Review: Various Artists – This Is The Blues (Volumes 1 & 2)

This Is The Blues is the name of a series of recordings from Eagle Records (the audio arm of Eagle Rock — who are best known for such concert video productions as the Live At Montreux DVD and Blu-ray series). This series focuses on, you guessed it, the blues.

So far, two volumes of the series have been released, with another two discs expected to arrive on July 20. Beyond that, who knows?

In the meantime, we have these two discs containing a buttload of pretty great sounding, mostly unheard blues/rock recordings. The loose theme here appears to be mostly contemporary — and mostly British — musicians covering the work of American blues masters like Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, and John Lee Hooker.

The list of participants is an impressive one too, including the likes of Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Rory Gallagher, Southside Johnny, and former members of Foghat (Lonesome Dave Peverett, Rod Price) and Cream (Jack Bruce). Peter Green, who as the founding guitarist of Fleetwood Mac falls more under the "contemporary" label himself, is also the subject of numerous cover tributes here.

Of these, Larry McCray plays a blistering guitar solo on a version of "Black Magic Woman" that owes as much to Carlos Santana's rendering of the song as it does to Green's with Fleetwood Mac. There's also an extended dual guitar workout on Green's "Rattlesnake Shake" from guitarists Vince Converse and Innes Sibun (and no, I've never heard of them either). Green himself turns up later on the second disc of the series with a version of "Traveling Riverside Blues."

Jeff Beck also turns in one of his signature "less is more" solos on John Lee Hooker's "Hobo's Blues," that is full of the short, staccato blasts that Beck so excels in. While former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor's solo on Dixon's "You Shook Me" wont make you forget the Led Zeppelin version anytime soon, it does offer a more tasteful and less bombastic sounding counterpart.

Cream bassist Jack Bruce's dark vocal tones on Hooker's "I'm In The Mood" likewise work well against the great Gary Moore's more straight forward blues licks on guitar. One of the nicer things about these This Is The Blues discs is that there really is a lot of great guitar work spread out over these tracks.

Mick Jagger backs up his kid brother Chris on harmonica, as the latter sings a version of "Racketeer Blues" that has the sort of funky, countrified-blues feel of some of the tastier tracks from the Stones' own classic Let It Bleed album. Irish guitar great Rory Gallagher's take on "Leaving Town Blues" falls into much the same funky, laid back category of country blues while adding some tasty slide and Celtic touches to the mix.

Lonesome Dave and Rod Price of Foghat offer up a version of "Love That Burns" that is as about as far away from that band's seventies mega-hit "Slow Ride" as it gets. Backed by what I am assuming is Southside Johnny's "Uptown Horns" section (since Price also plays on the Southside track here), the track slowly builds in intensity before climaxing with some nice trade-offs between Peverett on mouth-harp and Price on guitar.

The horns sound great here, just as they do on Southside Johnny's "Baby When The Sun Goes Down." New Jersey's "Southside" Johnny Lyon remains one of rock's most underrated blues and soul shouters, and the Uptown Horns are simply incomparable.

John Lee Hooker and Booker T perform a rare duet on Jimi Hendrix's "Red House," where Booker's ever-eerie-sounding organ parts compliment Hooker's elegant guitar work perfectly. The liner notes here describe the sound as hypnotic, and I wouldn't disagree one bit. Peter Green's beautiful instrumental "Albatross" is given a more subdued, atmospheric reading than the Fleetwood Mac original by former Jeff Beck Group sidemen Bobby Tench and Max Middleton.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.