At the time of its release, this 83-song collection was one of the bolder efforts by a major label at doing a proper survey of major blues categories. The material ranges from old-style big-band jump blues to the leaner, louder guitar sounds of the '60s and '70s, and isn't limited to artists who cut for Atlantic -- the producers had to license in a certain amount, especially where Chicago blues was concerned .
Overall, they've done a good job as far as the sheer variety of performers, but trying to summarize any of these areas -- blues vocalists, Chicago blues, guitar blues, or piano blues -- with only 20 tracks on a single CD each is an exercise in futility. It is a place to start if one has the money, however, showing some of the strong points of a lot of key artists, and the sound was also good for its time. This is also a good chance for the neophyte to hear tracks by certain performers -- like Jay McShann and Meade Lux Lewis -- who aren't otherwise represented on easy-to-find major label releases.
However, there are other releases on the market now (especially Rhino's blues retrospective series) that can make the same claims and are more thorough and ambitious in scope. Additionally, anyone with a little knowledge and the $60 or so that this box can cost might better spend it on some of the more recent compilations devoted to the top artists on this box's roster, like Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf. Those, plus some of the other Chess reissues from MCA, will tell one a lot more about Chicago blues than the one or two tracks by each that show up in this set.