CONTAINS: FEEL LIKE GOING HOME: THE SOULD OF A MAN: THE ROAD TO MEMPHIS: WARNING BY THE DEVIL'S FIRE: GODFATHER'S AND SONS: RED WHITE & BLUES: AND PLANO BLUES.
It may have been underrated when first broadcast on PBS on consecutive nights in the fall of '03, but executive producer Martin Scorsese's homage to the blues is a truly significant, if imperfect, achievement. "Musical journey" is an apt description, as Scorsese and the six other directors responsible for these seven approximately 90-minute films follow the blues--the foundation of jazz, soul, R&B, and rock & roll--from its African roots to its Mississippi Delta origins, up the river to Memphis and Chicago, then to New York, the United Kingdom, and beyond. Some of the films (like Wim Wenders's The Soul of a Man and Charles Burnett's Warming by the Devil's Fire) use extensive fictional film sequences, generally to good effect. There's also plenty of documentary footage, interviews, and contemporary studio performances recorded especially for these films.
The last are among the best aspects of the DVDs, as the bonus material features the set's only complete tunes. Lou Reed's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" and the ElektriK Mud Kats' (with Chuck D. of Public Enemy) hip-hop-cum-traditional updating of Muddy Waters's "Mannish Boy" are among the best of them; on the other hand, a rendition of "Cry Me a River" by Lulu (?!) is a curious choice, even with Jeff Beck on hand. The absence of lengthier vintage clips, meanwhile, is the principal drawback. For that reason alone, Clint Eastwood's Piano Blues is the best of the lot; a musician himself, Eastwood simply lets the players play, which means we get extensive file footage of the likes of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, and Nat "King" Cole, as well as new performances by Ray Charles, Dr. John, and others. Overall, this is a set to savor, a worthwhile investment guaranteed to grow on you over the course of repeated viewings. --Sam Graham
With this seminal figure's early work either out-of-print or only available overseas, these 1965 sessions take on an almost mystical importance. House had quit music for years when he was rediscovered in the early '60s and, as you will hear, time had not harmed his voice or his slide technique. These 21 tracks-12 unreleased-include his great Preachin' Blues essential stuff.
According to legend, it was Son House's blistering bottleneck guitar that prompted Robert Johnson to pick up a six string. House's potent early recordings from 1930 and 1941 to 1942 showcased his raw, emotionally powerful style, but never received the acclaim of Johnson's. When he was rediscovered during the '60s blues revivalist movement, House's voice still possessed wall-shaking intensity and his idiosyncratic slide guitar still had bite. These 21 recordings (including five alternate takes) offer superior fidelity and significant room for House to stretch out. The first disc features his classic "Preachin' Blues," a stirring a capella "Grinning in Your Face," and a nine-minute "Levee Camp Moan," with Canned Heat's Al Wilson on harp. Disc two (outtakes and alternates) includes an odd homage to President Kennedy and a riveting version of the spiritual "Motherless Children." --Marc Greilsamer