Probably the best blues album in the world…ever!
Martin Scorsese’s seven-part TV series on the blues has had mixed reviews in America. But it’s impossible to fault the accompanying five-CD box set, which must qualify as the most comprehensive blues compilation ever released. With 116 tracks chronologically sequenced and expertly annotated, there’s hardly a big name in the genre who isn’t represented.
Nevertheless, the set raises fundamental questions about why anybody should still bother listening to the blues. The music, after all, came from a specific set of economic, geographical, cultural and social circumstances that pertained to the Mississippi Delta in the first half of the 20th century. When the say-it-loud-I’m-black-and-I’m-proud revolution happened in the ’60s, African-Americans no longer wanted to be reminded of their former share-cropping oppression. Ironically, it was left to white British musicians to sustain and revitalise the blues tradition.
Scorsese provides several answers. First, by presenting the likes of Blind Willie McTell, Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson in context, Discs One and Two revalidate a body of work that may today sound scratchily ancient and from an experience almost totally beyond our comprehension by proving it can still speak with a voice of awesome emotional power and dramatic resonance.
Secondly, the set is subtitled A Musical Journey, and, as the old clich