This New Country Blues Compilation Is the Best Kind of History Lesson


Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues
Rough Guide

There are any number of ways to approach this fine 24-track compilation of performances from the ’20s and ’30s. First, it’s an intriguing history lesson, showing how ragtime, jazz, folk, and other styles were blended to create the music that would ultimately become the blues. If that seems too much like eating your vegetables, instead consider it an exploration of the roots of more celebrated artists. The Lovin’ Spoonful covered Henry Thomas’ “Fishing Blues,” while Cream updated Blind Willie (Joe) Reynolds’ “Married Man Blues” and Muddy Waters turned Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Roll and Tumble Blues” into a landmark of the genre.

It’s easy to imagine the Stones cribbing from any of these songs. But the best way to appreciate The Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues is on a strictly musical level. There’s infinite variety and subtlety to be found in the artful singing and inventive acoustic guitar playing of the men—and a handful of women, including the elusive Geeshie Wiley—represented on this excellent set. Start with Lane Hardin’s spooky “California Desert Blues,” or practically any other song, and prepare to be hooked.