Elmore James didn't live long enough to garner mainstream attention: a heart attack in 1963 sent him to the grave at the much too early age of 45, denying him the acclaim and crossover success he so richly deserved. But regardless, by the time of his death James was already a blues legend, his influence inestimable, as his signature slide guitar style affected not just the blues and R&B scenes but the rock world as well. For all its Dark and Dreary title, this sumptuous two-CD set gloriously revisits James' early years, paying a superb tribute to the singer/guitarist across 56 tracks. An expansive, well-researched, career-spanning biography tells James' story with obvious devotion and delight, while the track listing carefully notes the place, date, and musicians featured on each recording. Proceeding chronologically, the set begins in Jackson, MS, in August 1951, and traces a myriad of James' recordings before drawing to a close in Culver City, CA, in September three years later. The vast bulk of these numbers were performed by James' band the Broomdusters, which underwent numerous lineup shifts during this period -- thus the close attention paid to the musicians present at each session. If disc one is the meat of the set, then disc two is the soul, as James and company run through multiple takes of a clutch of numbers. This is an ever more popular trick among archivists to further milk hardcore fans of their hard-earned cash, but less so in James' case. The differences between each version may be slight, but there's no discernible dip in enthusiasm even as the band hits the fifth, eighth, or ninth go-round. As exciting a vocalist as he was an astounding guitarist, and whether offering up backyard licks, rollicking boogies, stirring R&B, or soul-shattering blues, James was the master of them all. His work was always riveting, and as a performer every word he sang and every note he slid, plucked, or strummed strutted with style and was delivered with a power so electrifying that it still sparks with that current today.