If you love the blues, you’ve heard of Alligator Records, the Chicago-based independent blues record label founded by Bruce Iglauer in 1971. In 1982, the label won its first Grammy Award for the album, I’m Here, by Clifton Chenier. The second Grammy came in 1985 for Showdown! by Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray. While the blues is the mainstay of the label, Alligator Records has released over 250 blues and blues/rock albums, as well as a now-defunct reggae series, to date. That makes Alligator Records the largest independant blues label in the world!
Which brings me to the point of this review: The Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection. This little treasure contains some of the best of the best music from among the hundreds of albums the label has released in the last 40 years. The winners were chosen by blues fans through an online poll. In all, there are 38 tracks, all from Alligator artists, including Hound Dog Taylor, Janiva Magness, Koko Taylor, Professor Longhair, Son Seals, Shemekia Copeland, Luther Allison, and my friend and personal favorite: Guitar Shorty. His contribution to the collection is: “We the People” (from the 2006 album of the same name, that won Shorty the won the Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year). And there are many more note-able musicians in this collection, all with a unique style that Mr. Iglauer calls: “Genuine Houserockin’ Music” (also the slogan of Alligator Records). The term is coined thusly: “Genuine” because the music Alligator Records records is deeply rooted in the blues tradition (even when it pushes the standard definition of blues) and is created by musicians who have honed their songs not on synthesizers in their bedrooms, but in front of real audiences, responding to the emotional needs of their listeners. “House” instead of “theatre” or “arena” or “stadium,” because the music is ultimately intimate, even when it’s big and loud. It’s not meant to be presented.
Part of what makes this collection special and intimate, are the liner notes by Alligator Records label founder Bruce Iglauer, with his song-by-song commentary that makes each song, each artist, someone special even if you’ve never heard of them before. You can tell the admiration and affection the author has for the artists who have recorded, and continue to record, on his label. There more than a little something for everyone’s taste, from the blistering. rocking guitar of Guitar Shorty ‘s modern American anthem “We the People,” to Buckwheat Zydeco, to Marcia Ball’s energetic, rockabilly dance tune “The Party’s Still Going On” to the “T-Bone Shuffle,” a classic blues shuffle by Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland and more. This new collection is the ultimate gift for a blues enthusiast, for the music lover who think s/he has everything, and of course, to add to your own collection.
For those who have to know right now what 38 artists and songs are included. Here they are:
1) KOKO TAYLOR I’m A Woman
2) ALBERT COLLINS I Ain’t Drunk
3) MICHAEL BURKS Strange Feeling
4) TOMMY CASTRO Backup Plan
5) LIL’ ED & THE BLUES IMPERIALS Icicles In My Meatloaf
6) GUITAR SHORTY We The People
7) RICK ESTRIN & THE NIGHTCATS U B U
8) MARCIA BALL The Party’s Still Going On
9) ROOMFUL OF BLUES That’s A Pretty Good Love
10) SMOKIN’ JOE KUBEK & BNOIS KING Have Blues, Will Travel
11) SON SEALS Going Home
12) BUDDY GUY & JUNIOR WELLS Give Me My Coat And Shoes
13) JANIVA MAGNESS Slipped, Tripped And Fell In Love
14) JOHNNY WINTER Mojo Boogie
15) COCO MONTOYA Last Dirty Deal
16) COREY HARRIS Fish Ain’t Bitin’
17) LUTHER ALLISON All The King’s Horses
18) ANDERS OSBORNE Echoes Of My Sins
19) LONNIE MACK w/STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN Double Whammy
20) ALBERT COLLINS, ROBERT CRAY & JOHNNY COPELAND T-Bone Shuffle
21) LONNIE BROOKS Don’t Take Advantage Of Me
22) EDDY “THE CHIEF” CLEARWATER A Good Leavin’ Alone
23) HOUND DOG TAYLOR Sitting At Home Alone
24) ELVIN BISHOP & LITTLE SMOKEY SMOTHERS Roll Your Moneymaker
25) JAMES COTTON With The Quickness
26) SHEMEKIA COPELAND It’s My Own Tears
27) PROFESSOR LONGHAIR Red Beans
28) CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE Where Hwy 61 Runs
29) ROY BUCHANAN WITH DELBERT MCCLINTON You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover
30) MAVIS STAPLES Step Into The Light
31) TINSLEY ELLIS Speak No Evil
32) ERIC LINDELL It’s A Drag
33) SAFFIRE—THE UPPITY BLUES WOMEN Going Down To The River
34) THE HOLMES BROTHERS Feed My Soul
35) KATIE WEBSTER Two-Fisted Mama
36) WILLIAM CLARKE Daddy Pinocchio
37) BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO When The Levee Breaks
38) JJ GREY & MOFRO The Sun Is Shining Down
…that’s over 157 minutes of pure entertainment! If you’re not a blues lover after you hear this collection, there’s something wrong with your ears! This is truly a gem that every blues enthusiast will want in their collection. It would be nearly impossible to pick just one favorite song, but you can certainly try! Share this with your teenager, and you might just find that instead of the canned music they have on their iPod now, they’ll discover a new world of music that is exciting, full of emotion, and in which every artist sounds different, with a distinct personality. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in the music, and you’ll never want to turn it off!
Officially launched on February 22nd, you can get the Alligator Records 40th Anniversary 2-CD collection for $16.98 on the Alligator Records web site, Amazon.com and other music retailers.
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