Box of the Blues
Rounder's four-CD Box of the Blues is, by looking at its inclusion of tracks, seemingly an ambitious proposition. But looks can be deceiving. Compiled and introduced by vice president of A&R Scott Billington -- a man whose credentials, when it comes to fighting for and preserving blues traditions, are unassailable -- these discs become a kind of theme-oriented blur of Rounder's substantial catalog holdings. Billington's schemata are quirky, sometimes ironic, and sometimes downright scary and profound as the set's first and second discs' "61 Highway" and "One More Mile" attest. The first CD concentrates its energies on the revelation of blues as it came up from the Mississippi Delta in the music of Fred McDowell, Johnny Shines, Etta Baker, Blind Willie McTell, John Hurt, and others and mutated up north to Chicago with Otis Spann, Robert Nighthawk, and others. On disc two, the blues becomes a more regional concern as expressed by everyone from Gatemouth Brown to Jack Dupree to Willie Cobbs and J.B. Hutto. Texas and News Orleans are prominently featured. And disc four, being a mishmash of current styles, has its merits even if the strategy is hard to decipher -- perhaps it is only that Billington put his favorite cuts on the disc, which would make it plenty valid even if it is a careening listen. But "Change in the Pocket" is erratic in its presentations of traditional purveyors of the music from George Thorogood and Corey Harris to the Tarbox Ramblers and Roomful of Blues. Here everything feels willy-nilly and reeks of some kind of revisionism. But still, three out of four isn't bad and the price is right, too. This is no Grammy-deserving compilation, but there are some amazing things on it -- even if it feels like Rounder patting itself on the back and trying to cash in on Martin Scorsese's Presents the Blues series on PBS.