Blind Blake...the most mysterious of all prewar bluesmen, owner of perhaps the most dexterous, confounding and hard-to-replicate technique of any blues guitar player in history. Not only did he posess flawless, incredible fingerpicking, he dynamicism of his music is also surprising, with many original instrumentation to be found here, like kazoo, slide banjo (courtesy of Gus Cannon), clarinet, slide whistle, xylophone, rattlebones, piano, washboard, and guest vocalists, male and female. His rhythm is impeccable and you will often hear him slip into double time variants in unexpected places, sometimes just half measures ("Steel Mill Blues"), making his assured music the perfect antidote to people who believe pre-war blues is simplistic, primitive music.
While much of this is pure blues, the other sides exists in the plane somewhere between vaudeville, ragtime and blues. Because of the variety it is not as primitive or visceral as Blind Willie Johnson or Robert Johnson. And while his pure blues can stand with either of the best of those two (or any other) Blake's expressive, upper mid-range vocals are more often uplifting. I find Discs B and E to be the most fascinating, the former containing some of the more fun, wilder arrangements (w/clarinet and xylophone) and closest to rag, as well as the awesome "Southbound Rag" (considered by many blues scholars to be the pinnacle of his playing); the latter disc containing "Guitar Chimes" (where Blake uses simple harmonics to introduce the midtempo blues) and "Blind Arthur's Breakdown" which are also textbook showcases of his unbelievable technique.
Although in reality we know next to nothing about the man himself, considering the sheer volume of tracks available over this incredible 5-disc set and the quality of the material, any musician should hope to be so well-represented long after he has passed on. A word about JSP box sets - if you are the kind of person who appreciates both quality and quantity over packaging, you will be in heaven. JSP always has high-quality mastering of their recordings, but considering the scarcity of some of these sides oftentimes bad sources are a necessity for completeness' sake. A generous, well-researched essay detailing the recording is split over each of the discs perfectly so that one can listen and read the known details of the recording applicable to said disc. If you can look past the cheap, plain jackets and covers, the Jelly Roll Morton, Charley Patton, and especially the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens and Django Reinhardt sets all contain a similar level of quality material, and like this one, are all well worth purchasing.