Sometimes the best way to get to know a performer whose music you're not familiar with, is to buy a greatest hit package that spans the length and breadth of his or her career. Ideally the package will reflect any and all changes and evolutions their music went through. After listening to the anthology not only should you have a good idea of what the person is capable of, but also be able to decide what if any other of his or her music you want to buy.
This is especially helpful when you are dealing with an exceptionally prolific musician whose career has seen a good deal of changes. Recently there has been an expansion on the way in which anthologies are used. They are now coming out as themed packages as well as retrospectives of a career.
In the last couple of years there has been at least two discs that have focused on women in music; Blues Guitar Women and La Guitara which encompassed more than just rock and roll to include Jazz and Classical guitar women as well. Although there was some duplication between the recordings they both managed to offer introductions to figures who on their own might not have received the amount of attention that the collections earned.
Similar to those of the previously mentioned collections, combined with a desire to celebrate their twelfth anniversary, Ruf Records of Germany has released Ruf Records Anthology: 12 Years Of The Blues Crossing Over. This is a two disc set, a CD plus a DVD, representing the highlights of each of the twelve years of their existence.
In his liner notes for the compilation, Thomas Ruf, founder of the label, says he wanted to select a song from what he considered each of the twelve years' most significant recordings. Those familiar with the label will recognize some of the songs as being on releases they may have heard before but others represent some of the less heralded performers on the label who may have flown under their radar or some old favourites who have found new life across the ocean.
For instance, although the opening track on the CD, "Working Overtime" is from Walter Trout's highly successful Full Circle disc (fifteen weeks on the Billboard charts and going strong) that features a duet between Walter and his new label mate Jeff Healy, the disc also includes such gems as "White Trash Girl" from Candye Kane's release of the same name.
Candye is larger then life with a voice like sandpaper mixed with honey that cuts like a chainsaw through all the shit that's not important. If this song is anything to go by, she's blues in the tradition of the old style blues woman whose voice demands your respect, no matter what else you may think of her. Like Bessie Smith and Big Momma Thornton before her, she has presence so out of the ordinary that it is extraordinary.
Candye is not the only surprise gem on this disc. The other one that astounded me was Kevin Coyne. This unassuming white haired guy looking for all the world like a high school English teacher, sings "Whispering Desert" taken from his year 2000 release Room Full Of Fools. On first hearing I was amazed at the poetic flow of his lyrics with their almost stream of conscience feel.
While so many singers feel they have to moan and contort their bodies and voices in order to prove the sincerity or depth of their emotion, Kevin manages to carry the listener deeper into the heart of something on the back of his words. His voice rarely rises above a conversational level, but he is more convincing than most of those who appear to be making twice the effort.
It was no surprise to learn that Mr. Coyne is also a painter and a poet, but what did shock me was the fact that he had completely improvised the lyrics to this and all the other songs on his disc. I would be fascinated to hear the remainder of Room Full Of Fools to hear whether or not he was able to maintain the quality of "Whispering Desert" for a whole disc.
If you ever had wondered where Omar and the Howlers and Canned Heat have gone to record, the answer is Germany. Although a Belgian re-release label, Music Avenue owns their back catalogue, anything that Canned Heat still holds the rights to or is creating new is being released by Ruf. The Song "See These Tears" is from their first disc with Ruf, the 1999 Canned Heat Blues Band while this year saw a compilation disc Instrumental: 1966 –1996 released for the first time.
Omar and the Howler's contribution is from their first Ruf album as well, 2003's Boogie Man. The song "White Crosses" was not at all what I expected, much more subdued and thoughtful then I remember the band being, and an almost Latin undertone to the music. It was quite an interesting departure from the bar band blues that I had expected, and intriguing enough to make me interested in what else they are doing now.
Over on the DVD half of the anthology tracks have been lifted from a variety of concert discs that Ruff has released over the years. For me the highlights were seeing the three young musicians who made up 2006s Blues Caravan, Ian Parker, Aynsley Lister, and Erja Lyytinen playing "All The Time". They are all kick ass guitar players, but they also show a nice vocal touch with some great harmonies at the end of the song. There is also something truly infectious about the fun the three of them are having on stage together which didn't come across as much on the CD they recorded together.
Having already watched the Bob Brozman concert DVD I knew what to expect, but if you have never experienced watching Bob, his performance of "Rolling Through The World" will leave you stunned. The sounds he is able to generate from his un-amplified Resonator guitar are astounding. He epitomizes the labels adage of the Blues Crossing Over like few others do. The title of the song refers to the numerous genres of music he incorporates seamlessly into the one song. From the sound of the sitar to a taste of Spain, but always centered in the Blues, he literally crosses over continents and oceans while playing this one song.
Like the anthology, there's no way I can do justice to all the performers on the Ruf label. These two discs provide a sampling of what Thomas Ruf considers the highlights of twelve years of music. Of course no compilation from Ruf would be complete without cuts from Luther Allison, the man for whom the label originally was formed, and each of the discs ends with the old master's work.
Thomas Ruf says that he started the label as a response to Luther challenging him to put his money where his mouth is, (it's only fitting that the CD closes with Luther's song of that name) judging by this compilation disc one would have to say that Thomas Ruf has given answer to that challenge.