It's quite remarkable that the first blues recordings from Baton Rouge, a renowned city and not so far from New Orleans, date back to 1954, when song smith and label owner of Feature Records first recorded J.D. `Jay' Miller as Lightnin' Slim. This double focuses on blues and root music from then until 1971, when these styles fused with more contemporary ones.
"Approximately in chronological order" is a first indication of the messy composition. Moreover, you'll be misled by the photo of the cover of the acclaimed Excello collector Swamp Blues', with which this double CD barely over-laps a song. The fact that Slim Harpo is the performer of nine of the 57 songs and is almost a `best or on its own with a.o. 'I'm A King Bee' and 'Baby, Scratch My Back' doesn't help either. There was also room for magic versions of 'Boogie Chillun' (The Nitehawks) and 'I'm Evil' (Lightnin' Slim) which never look like the original.
At the same time, the although numerous biographical information is only marginally released through the different trackcom-mentars. These are just a few formalities that make these discs more suitable for those who want to discover the blues of Baton Rouge or don't take the time to make a compilation themselves. It's a shame because of the treasure trove of gems in it. The acoustic version of 'Smokestack Lightning' by Clarence Edwards is delightful, Moses Smith (aka Whispering Smith) knows how to captivate solo on harmonica in 'Baton Rouge Breakdown', Robert Pete Williams moves in his ode `Goodbye Slim Harpo' and in `Who Broke The Lock' we hear a rare time Butch Cage on fiddle. Names like Lonesome Sundown, Raful Neal (Kenny's father), Henry Gray, Silas Hogan or Sally Dotson (lonesome girl power) & Smoky Babe may not be forgotten, but it's all served up more attractively. Olivier Verhelst
Blues and r&b sides by artists from Baton Rouge, Louisiana are usually associated with the Excello label: Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, Lazy Lester. Tabby Thomas, Lonesome Sundown plus other fine blues artists (but not as well known) such as Arthur 'Guitar' Kelley, Silas Hogan, Whispering Smith and Jimmy Anderson. Well, they are all here but Martin Hawkins (who produced the set. wrote the notes and track by track analysis) has cast his net wider to include the likes of of Robert Pete Williams, Smoky Babe, Butch Cage, Willie B. Thomas and Clarence Edwards. Covering the years 1954 to 1971, the tracks are taken from sides released on 78s, 45s and albums. As Hawkins states: "We really don't know what the blues sound of Baton Rouge was before 1954", so we kick of with Otis Hicks, (aka Lightnin' Slim) who cut 'Bad Luck' and 'Bugger Bugger Boy', in 1954 for Feature which is swiftly followed by Cleveland White's (Schoolboy Cleve) 'Strange Letter Blues' also cut for Feature but a year later.
That Reed groove was really taken to heart down in Baton Rouge, and it made the world a better place. Most of the blues here are good, but the main interest is in that swamp feel, uptempo or slower. The booklet by Martin Hawkins is excellent, and purchase is recommended to those who enjoy black American authentic music, and can take some of the folkier sounds and acoustic blues.