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Experience Blues: Blind Willie McTell

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Album Review

A three-disc, 74-track box set of Blind Willie McTell's prewar 78s, this collection from Britain's Catfish Records clearly replaces the Sony/Legacy double disc (also called The Definitive Blind Willie McTell) that was released in 1994. The Catfish set offers better sound, and where the Sony anthology collects sides from the Vocalion, Okeh, and Columbia labels, Catfish offers all of those and adds tracks from Victor and Decca as well, giving a more complete look at McTell's output between 1927 and 1935, including some selections in which he is a session player rather than the featured artist. The Sony compilation does have the better liner notes, mostly due to David Evans' long essay on McTell, while Catfish opts for more photos. These prewar tracks are also available in three separate single-disc releases from Document, but with even poorer sound than the Sony set. Catfish does botch the transfer of "East St. Louis Blues" here, inserting several seconds of another song at the beginning before the actual track snaps in, but in general, they have done a wonderful job of mastering this material, and until something better comes along, the Catfish box is the one to get.


Born: 05 May 1901 in Thomson, GA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s

Willie Samuel McTell was one of the blues' greatest guitarists, and also one of the finest singers ever to work in blues. A major figure with a local following in Atlanta from the 1920s onward, he recorded dozens of sides throughout the '30s under a multitude of names -- all the better to juggle "exclusive" relationships with many different record labels at once -- including Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, Hot Shot Willie, and Georgia Bill, as a backup musician to Ruth Mary Willis. And those may not...
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