Plug It In, Turn It Up!
The Definitive Collection!
Any collection that dares to call itself “definitive” draws a line in the auditory sandbox that dares guys like me to prove it wrong.
This twelve-disc set from Bear Family is the definitive history of the Electric Blues.
-There are over three hundred selections stretched across four separate boxes
-Each box also contains 150+ pages of text
-The presentation/graphics are on a par with the rest of it
-This is about technology as much as it is about music
Check it out!
It looks like whoever assembled this set hunted down every guitarist on the Blues Cruise and asked them to name not only their favorite player, but their favorite song by that player as well.
Beginning with “Floyd’s Guitar Blues” from 1939, the selections proceed in chronological order, to tell the story of a sound, an instrument, and the artists that made it.
Speaking of which, the digital remastering job rates as absolutely stunning. Listening through the trusty Sennheisers, I heard new parts on Muddy Waters, and I even made it through “Mustang Sally” without hitting the fast forward button.
Which brings up yet another point: alongside tracks by cult favorites like Jimmy Spruill, there are Top 40 hits, lesser-known selections by legends like Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed, and famous blues-tinged instrumentals by mainstream rock ‘n’ roll players. Listening to Disc Three, Volume Two for the fifth time, I realize that it’s about a sound , not a genre, an approach, and, above all, a feel.
The Liner Notes
A tip of the Kangol to Bill Dahl.
Rather than attempt to interpret the music himself, in almost every case he lets the artist tell the story in his or her own words.
What emerges is perhaps the most accurate picture of how not only blues, but music in general, often evolves and develops.
It proves to be an interesting formula indeed, rather than a carefully mapped out and structured path, reading the words of those who made it, it proves to be equal parts planning, mistake, and right place/right time.
There are some truly hilarious accounts of great tunes that changed the course of musical history often beginning with a flat tire or a bad hangover.
And then there’s that “other thing.”
Finally, someone has had the nerve and vision to acknowledge that the legacy begun by black artists in the Forties and Fifties, survived to a great extent from the Sixties on due to the efforts of young white players and fans.
With each set covering approximately a thirteen-year span, Box Three bumps up against The Sixties, and rather than argue the point is to who sounds the most “authentic” “Plug It In” devotes an entire CD to the British Invasion and American Blues revivalists, like Paul Butterfield.
Again, Dahl and Co. include groups like Manfred (“Do Wah Diddy Diddy”) Mann, The Pretty Things, and Spencer Davis.
Like it or not, the truth is that it was via groups like The Rolling Stones that many of us first heard of some guy named Muddy Waters, and later on, guys like Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite were the leaf that fell in the forest.
Likewise, Box Four gives due credit to (among others) Stevie Ray, Roomful Of Blues, The Thunderbirds, and Ronnie Earl for continuing to carry the torch, and brings it all full circle with a track by Nick Moss.
“Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But…”
Each of the four boxes runs around sixty bucks, and Bear Family doesn’t discount them.
Being in extremely precarious financial straits myself these days, I hesitate suggesting that everyone skip this month’s utility bill, strictly for entertainment purposes.
However, if you can afford it, think of this as a reference work rather than background music for your next theme party, and you’ll agree that it’s worth every Euro of it.
As we Baby Boomers find ourselves going into the final turn on the racetrack, we realize that ultimately “What does it all mean?” often comes down to “Yard Sale or Craig’s List?”
For those of you with a desire to leave something more than a collection of MP3 files and old records to future generations, I couldn’t think of a better choice than this collection.
My mom used to tell me that it was pretty simple, basically:
“Leave the world a little better place than it was when you got here.”
Thanks to “Plug It In” and the efforts of the folks at Bear Family Records, for around the same price as your average Carnival Cruise, you can do just that.
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