Lead Belly Road – Lead Belly (Year Unknown)

Lead Belly Road - Lead Belly (Year Unknown)

Like a ghost, you can hear the distant howls of Lead Belly (“Irene, good ni-i-ight, Irene, good nigh'”) in this murky compilation. Lead Bally is such a classic blues singer, of incalculable influence…and yet his music is so damn hard to find in a decent album format. And yet despite the age of the recordings, you can still hear the power, the creativity, the very immortal soul of blues coming through the distressed vinyl and scrub-heavy potato-quality MP3. That’s how Lead Belly is…he transcends shit technology, floating above it way more than his namesake would suggest possible.

Choice Cut: Irene
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Cowboy Bebop – The Seatbelts (1998)

Cowboy Bebop - The Seatbelts (1998)

Man, Cowboy Bebop… there’s a good reason why pretty much everyone agrees it’s one of the best anime ever made, maybe even the best. Great writing, awesome characters, gripping action scenes, fantastic animation… and the music. The music was a big mix-up of everything – jazz, blues, rock, soul, folk – and you can bet that every style that Yoko Kanno and her band tried was a runaway success. Especially of note for me is Bad Dog No Biscuits, which covers the Tom Waits composition Midtown. It’s the most badass soundtrack known to mankind and works just as well outside of context as it does in.

Choice Cut: Choosing a favorite song from this is like choosing your favorite Cowboy Bebop episode.
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Pastel Blues – Nina Simone (1965)

Pastel Blues - Nina Simone (1965)

The lounge leanings of Nina’s previous albums are completely stripped away and here Nina Simone is presented as a soulful, bluesy, gritty, serious artist. Her silky timbre, her huge range, and all the devastating emotion she packs into classics like Sinnerman and Strange Fruit makes her one of the most powerful singers I’ve ever heard. She can do anything she feels like with her voice, too – she gets sultry with Tell Me More and More and Then Some, romantic on Be My Husband, and playfully nostalgic on Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. She had it all, really.

Choice Cut: Sinnerman
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Come Away with Me – Norah Jones (2002)

Come Away with Me - Norah Jones (2002)

Looks like I’ve tapped into the “impress women” side of my collection. My reasons for liking this album are not so superficial, though. This is a beautiful blend of jazz, country, and blues, all with a touch of pop. The vocal delivery is from a divine plane of existence, I swear. This album exudes classiness and feels like a smooth, delicate listen. It’s also a very good way to broaden your horizons from adrenaline-soaked music to something more musically demure.

Choice Cut: Don’t Know Why
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Bone Machine – Tom Waits (1992)

Bone Machine- Tom Waits (1992)

Tom Waits follows up his legendary ’80s trilogy with his twisted, demented vision of blues rock. Earth Died Screaming, In the Colosseum, and Goin’ Out West (which you might remember from Fight Club) not only reinvent the tired genre – it’s turned into the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Even the gospel song Jesus Gonna Be Here sounds like it came out of hell. We also get three of his greatest ballads, Who Are You, A Little Rain, and Whistle Down the Wind, as well the unclassifiable, undeniably moving I Don’t Wanna Grow Up. Tom at his most striking, most violent, and most tender.

Choice Cut: Whistle Down the Wind
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A Bothered Mind – R.L. Burnside (2004)

Album

“R.L. Burnside! I do what I want!” Those first words on the album are all the justification I need for a septuagenarian blues singer to let others mix, scratch, beat, and rap over his Howlin’ Wolf-style swagger. A Bothered Mind is relentlessly modern and unapologetically a novelty. It’s evidence that this old man didn’t just love the music he grew up with, but music in general and all the new ideas that sprung up with time. I aspire to have that attitude as I slide into old age over the next five or six decades.

Choice Cut: Someday Baby
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King of the Delta Blues Singers – Robert Johnson (1961)

King of the Delta Blues Singers – Robert Johnson (1961)

If the old tale about Robert Johnson making a deal with the Devil for his musical skills is true, then you have to respect Old Scratch’s contribution to modern music. His wavering, high-register voice belts out classic blues tropes over simple chords and his signature finger-picked twang. What I personally find fascinating is that you can hear modern rock music being born even through the rough, faint recordings of his voice and guitar. The music may seem minimalistic, even bare, but it still gives me shivers, just like it did for the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Choice CutRamblin’ on my Mind
Buy Album: Amazon MP3 · Amazon CD · iTunes MP3

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