Ladies and gentlemen, I give you -- the greatest album ever recorded!
Okay, I exagerrate, but A Brief History of the Blues is, in fact, pretty much the best single disc blues anthology ever made. Which, of course, was the idea. From the liner notes:
In 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 were launched from Earth to explore and leave our Solar System carrying messages from us to the unknown. Attached to each ship is a gold-coated record with "The Sounds of Earth", including 90 minutes of the world's greatest music. If given the opportunity to program a similar disc, which 21 songs would you play to an extraterrestrial being to explain what "The Blues" was/is? What a question. This was our assignment.
The "our" in the above refers to the album's exec producers, Tonio K, who I once referred to, accurately, as the funniest serious songwriter in America, and his longtime collaborator, Texas guitar whiz Charlie Sexton. Short version: The album, including Tonio's amusing and wise accompanying essay, is just about perfect, with tracks ranging from the absolutely unarguable -- the W.C. Handy/Bessie Smith/Louis Armstrong "St. Louis Blues" -- to an obscure but transcendent version of "Long Distance Call" from an album Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Little Walter did in 1967. Obviously, this is the kind of a project with built-in pitfalls --
The first thing that needs to be admitted when approaching a compilation like this one is the fact that no one will ever be satisfied with it. Everyone will immediately wonder why _______'s version of _________ wasn't included. How could it have been overlooked? Are we stupid? Are we crazy? We agree.
-- but Tonio and Sexton have pretty much dodged them. Even better, the two new cuts produced by Sexton -- Doyle Bramhall II and Erykah Badu's appropriately spooky version of Charlie Patton's "Oh Death" and Charlie Musselwhite and Jimmie Vaughan's sizzling "Bad Boy" -- are a great fit with the classic tracks by the likes of B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Howlin Wolf and Mississippi John Hurt.
Needless to say -- go over to the link and order it immediately.
Incidentally, calling the above the greatest album ever recorded is a bit of an in-joke. Some years ago, I reviewed Tonio's brilliant debut LP Life in the Foodchain (one of the splendidly twisted masterpieces of its decade) and called it exactly that; since then, I have made it a point to describe every album he's released with the same phrase (and I meant it each time, BTW). You can read that now infamous September 1979 review (from the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review) here
And if you've never heard the record -- in which case, what's your fricking problem? -- here's my second favorite track from it, the incomparable "Funky Western Civilization." To our knowledge, still the only rock song with a cameo vocal appearance by Joan of Arc.
Sounds good? You betcha, so while you're up go order it here. You -- and the late George Metesky -- will thank me.