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The Centennial Collection

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Album Review

In practical terms, there’s not much need for Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings: The Centennial Collection. There are no undiscovered master or alternate takes, new remastering can only improve the original acetates and 78s so much, and apart from the sequencing of alternate takes after the masters, a debatable merit for listenability, the original 1990 box set The Complete Recordings did everything right. So, The Centennial Collection exists to celebrate Johnson’s 100th birthday, and to offer improved sequencing and sound, both of which are evident on the double-disc set that provides the foundation for this entire reissue project. As strong as this compilation is, what’s really noteworthy in this centennial celebration is the box set designed for the very wealthy among us, a handsome, lavish fetish object for collectors coming complete with a hardcover book containing 45-rpm replicas of the original 78-rpm singles; a double disc of Johnson’s originals; a double disc of Rarities from the Vault that places Johnson into the context of his times by offering a disc of blues cut between 1928-1932 and a disc of Texas country, folk, and Mexican music; and then a DVD documentary of Johnson’s legacy. Naturally, this luxurious item is more attractive and interesting than its bare-bones companion, but it doesn’t necessarily offer greater musical insight than its slimmer cousin. Johnson’s legacy can fit onto a mere two discs, so the rest of the set is essentially well-dressed extras, with the two CDs of contemporary blues, country, and folk offering a nice sampling of Johnson’s peers even if they’re by no means extensive. And when you spring for a set of this magnitude, what matters isn’t the content so much as the presentation — and in that regard, the four-disc set is impeccable.

Customer Reviews

Blues Walking Like A Man

Even if you have the previous release, the sound quality of the Centennial Collection is so greatly improved if you love this music you must get it again. It's that good. It also has improved sequencing and the alterate Traveling Riverside Blues. As for the music, it is fascinating and phenomenal to hear RJ work his vocal, lyrical and guitar playing magic - it is not hyperbole when Keith Richards, Rory Block and Eric Clapton describe RJ as the greatest bluesman ever. It was recorded in 1938 but like all great art it is timeless.

Buy it

This isn't just great American music, it is American history. RJ is the grandfather of rock n roll. This man deserves for respect. Delta blues at its finest.

Most important music ever recorded...

This is the best music ever recorded by a single individual. I've been listening to RLJ for 20+ years now and never tire of it. This remastered centennial collection is revelatory for its sound quality compared to the "complete recordings."


Born: May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s

If the blues has a truly mythic figure, one whose story hangs over the music the way a Charlie Parker does over jazz or a Hank Williams does over country, it's Robert Johnson, certainly the most celebrated figure in the history of the blues. Of course, his legend is immensely fortified by the fact that Johnson also left behind a small legacy of recordings that are considered the emotional apex of the music itself. These recordings have not only entered the realm of blues standards ("Love in Vain,"...
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