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October 2001

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Various Artists
Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection  Alligator

Two of our Blues Bytes reviewers submitted reviews of this CD, so you get to read two opinions.

Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection30 years! Hard to believe that a record label devoted to the blues would be celebrating any distinguished anniversary, but that's exactly what Chicago-based Alligator Records is doing this year. Fresh out of college a black-bearded young white boy named Bruce Iglauer, totally enamored with the blues, took a small inheritance and established a label primarily to record his favorite artist at the time, Hound Dog Taylor and his band the Houserockers. 30 years later Alligator is the primer independent blues label in the world, with a current catalog of about 190 titles covering every style of blues, including New Orleans boogie piano maestro Professor Longhair's last recording (co-produced with Dr. John) and Zydeco king Clifton Chenier along with son/prodigy C.J. Chenier. 

To clearly acknowledge itself to the music-buying public, Alligator recently released a two-CD collection featuring 18 "in the studio" cuts and 13 "on the stage" tunes, following previous anniversary collections of 20 and 25 years. A special attraction on the "stage" disc includes a filmed performance of Hound Dog Taylor with that unstoppable full mouth grin of his that invites you into his frenzy playing on the song "Taylor's Rock" in all its spirited glory. Any computer with CD-ROM can access this feature. 

The mixture of electric, acoustic, male and female artists and bands truly show the ground that Alligator has covered in its time. The "studio" disc expertly and truly highlights all these kinds of recording artists. A good majority of the tunes are from the last five years of the Alligator catalog. Here we find Shemekia Copeland, daughter of late great Johnny Copeland (also an Alligator artist with a superior Grammy-winning guitar album recorded along with Albert Collins and Robert Cray entitled "Showdown"), shining with super vocal chops on the lead-off track "Turn The Heat Up," from her Alligator debut at the age of 19. Whew! Burning track. Such contemporary artists as Corey Harris treat us to various incarnations of the blues. Harris's tune, "Basehead," enters a territory of blending styles with call and response moving in and out of national steel guitar riffs with vocals reminiscent of Robert Johnson and Lightin' Hopkins. We hear Harris again, this time with New Orleans-style piano player Henry Butler, take a completely different turn with this upbeat boogie blues tune "If You Let A Man Kick You Once." On the Holmes Brothers track, "Homeless Child," the first few notes sound almost out of place, incorporating techno beats. But shortly thereafter the unmistakable notes of the harmonica bring us back to the blues. It does work. The remainder of disc one features well-known artists like Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells and little less-known ones like Rusty Zinn and Coco Montoya. 

Disc two is all live recordings with outstanding production values (usually a real accomplishment). Three tracks are unreleased, proving that Alligator probably has hours and hours of live recordings that hopefully will find their way to disc someday. Highlights are an unreleased Albert Collins and the Icebreakers tune, "Dyin' Flu," which always thrills any blues lover allowing us once more to be graced with a true genius on guitar. Another spirit who has since gone on to the big blues jam in the sky, Luther Allison, serves up some smoking guitar on "Soul Fixin' Man." I was fortunate enough to catch Allison live a few years before he died, and his ringing notes are still with me today. Texas blues troubadour, Delbert McClinton smacks right into it with an inspired version of "Maybe Someday Baby." Other selections include blistering tracks by James Cotton, Little Charlie and the Nightcats (featuring the imaginative guitar work of bandleader Charlie Baty) and old Butterfield Blues band cohort Elvin Bishop. 

The packaging is something to behold, with tri-fold flaps comprised of album covers and old concert posters. The liner notes are penned by known blues historian John Sinclair, who had a connection with Alligator head Bruce Iglauer when Hound Dog Taylor, who Iglauer represented at the time, was booked by Sinclar for the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. 

A tremendous sampling of music that should be in any blues collection. This disc is just being released, so you should be able to find it on sale. Don¹t forget to check out Alligator's website

--- Bruce Coen

Well, time flies. That's the conclusion to draw from the appearance of Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection at your nearest store. Yes, 30 years has already passed since Bruce Iglauer decided to launch a label in order to let the world in on Hound Dog Taylor's music. Even though Taylor died in 1975, he hasn't been forgotten by the company that gave us only "genuine houserockin' music," as this nice two-CD package reminds us. Not only does disc two end with "It's Alright," from Taylor's live Beware of the Dog album, but you can also view the man in person, or almost, as the CD includes a QuickTime video documenting Taylor's appearance at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues Festival, playing "Taylor's Rock." Furthermore, "Sadie" is nicely covered by Son Seals and Elvin Bishop, also on disc two. 

Before I get ahead of myself, let me describe the characteristics of this double album. Disc one includes 18 tracks from various artists, most of them recent releases. Things open with a bang with Shemekia Copeland's "Turn The Heat Up," the leadoff (and title) track of her debut CD, which signaled the emergence of a new star. Other cuts from recent albums come from Michael Burks, Marcia Ball, Coco Montoya, Corey Harris (one by himself, one with Henry Butler), Koko Taylor, Rusty Zinn, The Holmes Brothers and Dave Hole, with a half dozen or so older offerings. (The company issued similar compilations for its 20th and 25th anniversaries, so the focus on newer stuff is understandable). 

While this first disc serves mainly as an introduction aimed at novices, the second disc, subtitled On the Stage (only live performances here), with five previously unreleased tracks, is the real bonus for the longtime fans. The first of these previously unreleased tracks is also the most recently recorded ... C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band doing a fairly straight "Jambalaya," recorded in 1997 in Berwyn, Illinois. Then it's up to the late Albert Collins & The Icebreakers, recorded in Minneapolis in 1981. Their previously unreleased contribution, "Dyin' Flu," is the oldest track on the CD, save for the above-mentioned closing track by Hound Dog Taylor. Clocking in at 10:34, it's also the longest, most slow burning affair. Other new finds come from Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials, and Son Seals with Elvin Bishop doing their version of Hound Dog Taylor's "Sadie." 

All in all, it's a beautiful introduction to the most important independent blues label in existence, with nice notes from expert John Sinclair and just enough incentive for even the most hardcore fans. I only wish that more complete notes were given for each cut. For example, I suppose that it's A.C. Reed's sax being heard on Albert Collins' live cut, but in the absence of any session-ography, I cannot be sure. Then again, this is marketed as a specially priced user-friendly introduction, and as such, it fits the bill just nicely.

--- Benoît Brière

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