I have no idea why I've only given this compilation four stars, but with this new system that Amazon has introduced, you can't change it without having to delete the entire review and write a new one. But I meant five. Five stars. Five!
This magnificent collection brings most of Aleck "Rice" Miller's best songs together on a single disc, and it is highly recommended if you're relatively new to Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II).
Every one of these songs are top-notch. Raw, gritty electric blues played by some of the tightest bands in the business, the cleverest lyrics this side of Willie Dixon, and musicians which include Muddy Waters, Robert "Jr." Lockwood and Buddy Guy. And of course Miller's braying harmonica and instantly recognizable rasp of a voice.
Rice Miller's amplified harmonica playing is easily the grittiest and most immediately recognizable ever on record (Big Walter Horton is the only one who gets close), and the way he moves between singing in his expressive old man's voice and blowing the harp is amazing.
"This man moves from vocal to harp with an ease only possible of one who long ago sold his soul to the devil in exchange for not having to breathe while performing", the liner notes to one of his LPs once stated (in a disturbingly serious way!).
This is one of the finest items in the entire MCA/Chess catalogue, featuring all-time Chicago blues highlights like "All My Love In Vain", "Nine Below Zero", "Don't Start Me To Talkin'", "Help Me", the supremely tough "One Way Out", and "Fattening Frogs For Snakes" which combines one of the most irresistable blues tunes you'll ever hear with one of Miller's best lyrics.
Because his output for the label was of such a uniformly high quality, virtually everything Williamson put down on tape at the Chess studios could make a final cut on any best of package you'd want to put together on the man, so a lot of wonderful music is obviously missing from this collection, including three of Sonny Boy's best songs ("Santa Claus", "Too Young To Die" and "Peach Tree"). But you gotta start somewhere, right? And this is a genuine A+ compilation, well annotated, and utilizing the finest digital transfers ever heard.
I just have to add one word of advice:
If you already have his debut LP, "Down And Out Blues", or know enough about Sonny Boy to want a lot of the really good stuff in one place, may I suggest the 45-track "The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson", also from MCA/Chess, instead.
It has more than twice as many songs, yet at no point does it resort to "filler", and that one is the definitive Rice Miller-collection. Oh, and you'll need his Trumpet sides as well!