“The Blues Box” is a 7CD compilation of a variety of mostly downhome blues that has appeared on the Scandinavian Storyville label over the decades. The recordings were made by touring blues artists and mostly date from the sixties and early seventies and include some of the most important artists alive at the time. The overwhelming majority of these recordings are solo or duo, or in a few cases there are small groups. the overall flavor is intimate recordings although using the word intimate with a rambunctious barrelhouse performer like the great pianist Speckled Red seems like an oxymoron.
One complaint in a written review I have seen is that they should have included the complete Storyville Recordings of the artists presented (they may have done so with respect to Lonnie Johnson). I do not disagree with that assessment, but can also appreciate the sense of bringing together a wide group of performers as they have done here. I should point out that some of the recordings by Lonnie Johnson, Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes, Sippie Wallace and Sleepy John Estes have been issued in the United States after being licensed from Storyville. I am not sure what may be currently readily available stateside although I believe Roosevelt Sykes and John Estes sides may be on CD reissues on Delmark.
Here is a brief summary of what you get here. CD One provides 13 sides by Lonnie Johnson, accompanied by Otis Spann on all but one with a remake of “Tomorrow Night,” and a mix of blues and ballads. there are also 8 excellent performances by Spann including a terrific “Trouble in Mind,” where Johnson backs him as well as a nice rendition of Johnson’s “Jelly Roll Baker. CD Two features 13 terrific piano blues by Speckled Red with his barrelhouse renditions of “The Dirty Dozen,” and “St. Louis Stomp,” along with Sunnyland Slim’s eight strong tracks including moving renditions of his Aristocrat single “Johnson Machine Gun,” and Leroy Carr’s “Prison Bound Blues.” Both pianists often provide brief spoken introductions that enliven the superb performances. CD Three brings together recordings by two of the greatest blues pianists Roosevelt Sykes (9 selections including a remake of “44 Blues”), and 5 tracks by Little Brother Montgomery and the two of them provide accompaniments to 8 of the nine excellent Sippie Wallace vocals. Sippie accompanies herself on “Up the Country Blues.”
CD Four shifts the focus to blues guitarists with 10 energetic and exuberant Delta blues by Big Joe Williams whose “El Paso Blues,” is clearly inspired from “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Kokomo Blues.” Sleepy John Estes and his long-time associate Hammie Nixon are heard on 7 songs with Estes crying vocals and Nixon’s sympathetic harmonica with “Diving Duck Blues,” being a highlight. the final 7 selections are by Robert Pete Williams in his mesmerizing style. CD Five has the earliest selections here, live 1956performances from Copenhagen’s legendary Club Montmartre by Big Bill Broonzy as well as 6 1964 recordings by John Henry Barbee, a solid if unspectacular bluesman influenced by Broonzy among others turning in a rendition of “Dust My Broom.”
More piano is featured on CD 6 which opens up with 11 selections by Memphis Slim including a nice “Fattening frogs For Snakes.” Champion Jack Dupree performs seven selections, some solo and some with a small group including Leroy Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise.” Eddie Boyd and Jay McShann each have three selections. Boyd reprises “Five Long Years,” while McShann performs “Kansas City Blues,” which is credited here to Little Willie Littlefield and not Lieber & Stoller. Littlefield has long claimed to have written the song (originally issued as “K.C. Lovin’” on Federal) and sold it to the more famous duo. CD Seven shifts the focus to harmonica (well not entirely) and 9 recordings by the second Sonny Boy Williamson, some with Matt Murphy’s guitar and Memphis Slim’s piano of which the quasi-autobiographical “The Story of Sonny boy Williamson perhaps demonstrates his surreal blues poetic lyricism. The remaining 10 selections are by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and are strong performances by the pair.
There is also a bonus DVD which open with some excellent vintage and intimate performances by Champion Jack Dupree and Sonny Boy Williamson. Then there are performances by Robert Lockwood, Jr., James Booker, Henry Gray, Boogie Bill Webb & Harmonica Slim, and Cousin Joe that are excerpted from a series of videos recorded at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans that I believe were filmed around the time of the ill-fated New Orleans World Fair.
There is a generous amount of music in the box with the bonus DVD. The performances are never less than good and many are exceptional and provide a wide variety of musical performances and styles.