Robert Johnson - The Centennial Collection (Sony, 2011)


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It is hard to believe that it has been twenty years since the release of The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson rocked the music world. Amazingly the recordings of a long dead acoustic bluesman who was not particularly popular or well known in his own time (see Elijah Wald) managed to score a gold record some fifty plus years after his death. Using the hundredth anniversary of his birth as an excuse for a major sonic upgrade of the Johnson catalog, it casts fresh light on the man, the legend, and most importantly, the music. The re-mastering of the music is wonderful, sounding warm and natural, but still of its time. Now broken down in a more reasonable fashion with the San Antonio session on disc one (with the alternates at the end of the disc) and the Dallas session on disc two. The music continues to astonish after all of these years and the all of the testimonials from rock 'n' roll musicians are hardly necessary. To hear the malice and weariness in Johnson's voice as he sings “Hell Hound on My Trail" or “32-20 Blues" will raise the hairs on the neck of even the most jaded music aficionado. Many musicians talk about Johnson's unique guitar style, and while it's undeniably amazing, it's his voice that really gets to me, Whether the joyful hokum of “They're Red Hot" or the down in the alley singing on “Me and the Devil Blues" and “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day," that voice is what truly makes the performances, it is unique in all of music. Overall, this is a very well done compilation, priced well to attract those like me who own the earlier set too. The liners are well done too, featuring a fine essay along with the few remaining photographs and images. The Centennial Collection—amazon.com

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This story appears courtesy of Music and More by Tim Niland.
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