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Various Artists Essential Blues 3 (House of Blues)

By Michael Henningsen

JUNE 14, 1999:  Between their "This Ain't No Tribute" and "Essential" series, not to mention fine releases by Otis Rush, Phoebe Snow, Derek Trucks and others, the House of Blues label has done more to preserve and further the blues in the past few years than any other single label. The nine albums (so far) that make up the "Essential" series are especially satisfying in that they span not only a wide range of classic and contemporary artists, but also the full breadth of traditional blues instruments and styles -- from Essential Blues Guitar to Essential Blues Harmonica, from Essential Texas Blues to Essential Women in Blues. As a whole, the series attempts -- quite often successfully -- to offer listeners a jumping-off point, a taste of the diversity of American blues music.

With Essential Blues 3, the various artists' series continues in grand style, bringing together 31 artists for a twin disc foray into every aspect of the blues imaginable. Disc 1 kicks off with Chicago blues legend Luther Allison's interpretation of the Stones' classic, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and ends with country blues pioneer Mississippi John Hurt's "Corrina, Corrina." Sandwiched between the two are traditional blues exercises by Jimmy Rogers, John Lee Hooker and T-Bone Walker, the alterna-blues according to R.L. Burnside, the consummate New Orleans vocal style of the late Johnny Adams and a touch of the acoustic blues courtesy of relative newcomer Corey Harris.

But where Disc 1 offers a solid cross-section and several standout tracks, Disc 2 is simply a string of pearls. Charles Brown's "Fools Paradise" and Junior Kimbrough's "Meet Me in the City" are reason enough to shell out for the entire collection, but the inclusion of one track each by Ruth Brown, the little-known Robert Ward (ex-Ohio Untouchables and longtime Motown sideman) and two more acoustic journeys sponsored by Lightnin' Hopkins and Alvin Youngblood Hart make your purchase a bonafide blues bargain.

This latest House of Blues collection contains enough foot-stompin' blues to keep your blood boiling for a good long time. And true to its name, it's a blues album essential to any well-rounded collection.

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