Robert Johnson the most mythical figure in all of blues, played his music with the cool, calculation, and self-possession of an assassin. Believe him when he sings (of an allegedly "Kindhearted Woman") that "she studies evil all the time," but listen more closely for the real story. The guitar is playing a deep, murderous counterpoint to the lyric. If anyone has studied evil, it's the man picking those marrow-chilling phrases -- no wonder legend has him striking a deal with the devil in exchange for his soul-stirring sound. This two-disc collection, which gathers every take Johnson ever put to tape, finds the blues legend embodying the dual thrusts of African-American music: calculated abandon and icy passion. His piercing vocal and devastatingly seductive riffing is so unsettling that he can sing "two and two is four" (in "Sweet Home Chicago") and leave his listener in doubt whether even that is the simple truth. When he moves from math to rhetorical questions -- "Baby, don't you want to go?" -- there's more confusion. The mind knows not to go, no good could come of this man, but
the heart and the body hopelessly follow that killer falsetto. Combine this haunting music with a package of extensive notes, and you've got the
biggest-selling blues box set in history.