Tuesday, 6 October 2009

“Chess Blues”, 1993 USA-Only 4CD Box Set on MCA/Chess CHD4-9340. A Review…

“…I Woke Up This Morning…Couldn’t Even Get Out Of Bed…”

Released in early 1993 in the USA, the 101 tracks on this 4CD box represented the first proper overview by MCA of the Chess Blues legacy since their acquisition of its entire catalogue way back in 1985. And even now (in late 2009) with many subsequent compilations and box sets having followed - I estimate there are still at least 20 to 30 tracks exclusive to this set.

Here's a basic breakdown (each CD has a themed label):

Disc 1, 1947-1952, 25 Tracks, Yellow Aristocrat Label (73:31 minutes)
Disc 2, 1952-1954, 25 Tracks, Blue Chess Label (73:01 minutes)
Disc 3, 1954-1960, 26 Tracks, Plum Checker Label (73:08 minutes)
Disc 4, 1960-1967, 25 Tracks, Brown Argo Label (71:30 minutes)

"Chess Blues" was produced and co-compiled by ANDY McKAIE and features a wonderful 64-page booklet detailing track-by-track liner notes by MARY KATHERINE ALDIN of the LIVING BLUES Magazine (she handled the liner notes for many of the early Chess compilations). The text is peppered with classy black & whites photos of Chess giants like MUDDY WATERS, JOHN LEE HOOKER, LITTLE WALTER, HOWLIN' WOLF, WILLIE DIXON, SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, CHUCK BERRY and ETTA JAMES. There are a few reproduced trade adverts and an opening comment by PHIL CHESS. Best of all though is the read - the paragraphs have great insights into the songs and revelatory information on long forgotten artists like LAURA RUCKER, ROBERT NIGHTHAWK and ARBEE STIDHAM. Just like Peter Grendysa's liner notes in the "Chess Rhythm & Roll" box that followed it, the booklet in this is a peach.

Remastered from Aristocrat and Chess master tapes by ERICK LABSON (over 800 credits to his name), the sound is great throughout - excepting a few tracks dubbed from disc ("Memory Of Sonny Boy" by FOREST CITY JOE from 1949 is one of them).

The music is far grittier than the "Rhythm & Roll" box where the Blues morphed into Rhythm 'n' Blues and then into Soul, but it's equally brilliant.

Unreleased gems include the fabulous piano-boogie of "Cryin' The Blues" by LAURA RUCKER sounding like a blues'd up version of Nellie Lutcher (lyrics above) - and a truly electrifying stripped down alternate take of "All Night Long" by Muddy Waters (just Muddy on guitar and Little Walter on harmonica) where he wants his woman to "rock me...all night long...'til my back has no bone..." Great stuff!

Listening to "Chess Blues" a full 16 years after its release is still a fabulous experience - and although it's not nearly as rare as it's follow-up set "Chess Rhythm & Roll", it's just as desirable...

Recommended - big time.

See also 5 separate reviews - the 1994 4CD box set "Chess Rhythm & Roll", the mammoth 15CD box set "The Chess Story 1947-1975" issued in 2000 and it's 3 separate parts issued as stand-alone 5CD sets in 2003

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