Aleck "Rice" Miller's first LP, "Down And Out Blues", was reissued on CD in 1987, but is now out of print. Fortunately you can get it on this twofer-CD, coupled with the 1965 album "In Memorium", originally issued shortly after Miller's death.
There is plenty of remastered Sonny Boy available on the various MCA/Chess compilations, and they may just have a slight edge over this CD as far as fidelity is concerned, but if you want Sonny Boy's first album this is pretty much the only way to get it unless you want to pay import price.
"Down And Out Blues" features some of Miller's very best songs and biggest R&B hits, including "Don't Start Me To Talkin'", "I Don't Know", "All My Love In Vain", "Your Funeral And My Trial" and "Fattening Frogs For Snakes", all of which rank among the finest electric blues songs of the 50s.
Rice Miller was an amazing harmonica player and a tremendous singer, and as a songwriter he was (and is) virtually unmatched in the blues field. His keen attention to detail turns his best songs into riveting mini-epos which hold up to the scrutiny of the printed page like very few other blues songs (or rock songs for that matter).
Apart from the hits, "Down And Out Blues" also includes a few lesser-known but often equally impressive numbers. "Wake Up Baby", a swaggering mid-tempo shuffle with a jazzy feel and tremendous lyrics, is a slightly more dignified (and musically more interesting) version of the hilarious folk song "Three Nights Drunk"...it is unique to this CD, and it's a mystery why so many compilers have missed that one.
(I have to mention that the song which is listed - here and on the cover and in the liner notes - as "Keep It To Yourself" is not the song which is usually known under that, but rather one which is called "Please Forgive". It has somehow made it unto this album under the wrong title, being listed in the Chess files as "Please Forgive (Keep It To Yourself)". Great song, though...apart from this album, it only appears on Charly's fabulous box set "The Chess Years", which isn't in print at this time.)
"In Memorium" is actually identical to Sonny Boy's "Real Folk Blues" album. It gathers a dozen latter-day Sonny Boy-numbers, several of which aren't on MCA's otherwise excellent 20-track compilation "His Best", including Willie Dixon's "That's All I Want" and the irresistably funky "Peach Tree". Other highlight include "One Way Out", a powerful song which Elmore James recorded in a slightly different version, and which may originally be a co-composition between the two men, and the magnificent "Too Young To Die".
No matter how you cut it, this is must-have Sonny Boy.
Five stars and no reservations at all.