2003 was the Year of the Blues and a whole lot of good bluesy things happened, most notably Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues TV series and companion CDs. But although the series got into some lesser-known artists like J.B. Lenoir and Bobby Rush, it mostly focused on the central canon of the Mississippi Delta, up through Memphis, to Chicago and beyond.
Rounder’s Box of the Blues is a four-CD set of 60 songs over a 50-year period of much quirkier artists that provides an excellent shadow history to the blinding light of the Blues Greatest hits a la the Scorsese series. Many hybrid blues styles including jump (Candye Kane, Roomful of Blues), gospel (Holmes Brothers), blues rock (Chris Duarte, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater), southern soul (Ruth Brown, Wilson Pickett, Johnny Adams, Solomon Burke, Ann Peebles), zydeco (Theryl “Houseman” de’Clouet) give an indication of the width and breadth of the greater blues panoply. But it is the earthy, gutty, stripped, largely acoustic blues of disc one by the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Babe Stovall and Herb Quinn (in the black stringband tradition), the original Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny Shines, Buster Brown, Cephas & Wiggins, Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee that is the pure gold of this valuable collection.