This 5-disc boxset is a must-have for anyone who needs to upgrade (or hear for the first time) even just 2 of the artists included. Look at it like this, buying 2 single discs by any of these guys will put you between $25 and $30. The price for this entire set.
This is the complete pre-war recordings of Skip James, Son House, Bukka White, Tommy Johnson, and Ishman Bracey. In other words, included here is some of the best music America ever produced.
I will first say that in terms of Tommy, Son, Ishman, and Bukka, this is the best sonic quality in which I have heard them. The Documents and Sony/Columbia releases are not as good as this. Skip's stuff was released by Yazoo so if you have that and love it you may think you don't need this for Skip, which is fine though, because the 4 others still sound much better here.
Tommy in particular has never (at least beyond hearing his original sides, decades ago) sounded better, in my opinion. Honestly, I will probably always have a tough time deciphering alot of what he is saying, but I can make out alot more of it here than I ever could in the years I owned the Document disc. His guitar playing and tone sound better, fuller, also. I've appreciated Tommy more in the 4 months I've had this box than I did in the previous however many years I had the Document. I must mention that the one minor mistake of the box is on Tommy's disc. Boogaloosa Woman and Morning Prayer are in the opposite order listed on the cd. Not a big deal at all.
I was quite looking forward to the Bukka disc because previous to buying this box, I only had his Okeh and Vocalion stuff from 1937 and '40. All the earlier stuff was new to me. Having heard it all now, I think the Okeh '40 is his best. His guitar playing is fantastic during all eras, but I like his voice best in '40.
Ishman I was the least familiar with, only having heard some of his stuff at an acquaintances place, but never owning it or getting any repeated listenings of my own. There is some good and not so good stuff here, in my opinion. For me, the defining highlight of alot of Ishman's stuff is the mandolin playing of Charlie McCoy. He is captured louder, and has a much bigger presence with Ishman than he ever had with Tommy Johnson and it makes for a great overall sound.
After buying this in 2003 I checked to see what another site had to say about it, and they said it was great for the blues novice. Hogwash. Whether you never heard of any of these guys before, or have been listening to them since before I was born, this box is a fantastic deal and has great sound (by the standards of what one can reasonably expect when so much of the source material is from Paramounts). The richness and tone of the guitars and voices are there, but without the degree of noise-reduction that flattens the sound. This is an essential box set for any fan of pre-war blues.
Skip: The haunting ghost-voice of Mississippi. Son: All the fire & brimstone. Bukka: Groove-blues to shake your tail feathers to. Tommy: Drunken, languid pain. Ishman: Sometimes great, sometimes goofy.