I got it in the mail this afternoon and I'm just starting to wade through the first few discs. I also looked through the book which is 184 pages, hard cover, LP sized, with lots of photos and label shots if there were Sun label releases of the tunes. Colin Escott, one of the producers of the original Charly LP set, is involved in this one. In the intro he talks about the differences in the releases. The original LP set was intended to be fairly comprehensive of Sun releases done by Sam Phillips of African-American artists. It included at least one LP of gospel and secular vocal group stuff which the subsequent CD issue left off. Additionally between the time of the LP release and the first CD reissue there were a number of single CDs issued by Charly of Sun rarities. Some of these alternate tracks appeared on the CD reissue and were substituted for tracks on the original LP version. I remember at the time the CD set came out, I thought I should hang on to the LP version due to differences between these two. Addititionally, in the 1980s when the CD reissue came out, a number of Chess, RPM and a few other tracks were no longer available for reissue. Thanks to the 50 year copyright rule, these availability issues no longer exist. They reconstituted the LP release and added the alternate tracks issued on the CD reissue and added a few things not known about at the time of either of these issues including things taken from acetates recently found or in the hands of collectors. The book is very well done - following brief stories about putting the box together, Sam Phillips and his recording history, there is a fairly lengthy section with artist bios followed by a song-by-song note section which is organized by CD. Each track gets at least a paragraph with label photos when available. There is one CD devoted to the Kings of Rhythm, another titled "red hot rhythm" which covers the change in sound from blues to uptempo R&B as an attempt to take over a bit of the early rock & roll market, another with gospel and secular groups, CD 9 is out-takes which gathers all of those alternate takes that were on the first CD version of the box set, CD 10 is titled "revelations" which includes tracks discovered toward the end of compiling the box which were unknown or not included but probably should have been. Finally the book ends with a chapter titled "Session File" which includes who did what and when (at least as much as is known). I think Sam kept pretty incomplete files during this time but still, it's a better and more accurate information than any current discography as they had a lot more information to work with. The book says the cut-off for recordings in this set is 1958, but Sam had pretty much given up on recording blues after he discovered Elvis as most of his money went into recording, producing and promoting white hillbilly rockers after 1954. One exception is Frank Frost who had an LP released on Phillips International in the late 1950s-early 1960s. Bear reissued this LP with a CD version as a package which I purchased through mail order a couple of months ago. There are probably a few other individual artists released after 1958 but I think that is probably less than what would make a single CD possible.
So do you need this? Well if you don't also own the LP version of the blues box, then there are probably quite a few tracks you're missing. I own both the Charly LP and CD box sets and I still think it's worth it to own this one. I may just sell my CD set from Charly. I've not had a chance to compare sound quality but my bet is the Bear Family sound is going to be hard to beat. If your tastes in blues doesn't extend beyond blues-rock this may not be for you. These early 1950s recordings are raw and somewhat primitive by today's standards but they are essential to understanding the evolution of the blues from the pre-war era to today's music. Many of you may have been exposed to Chicago blues from this era but not Delta blues. Howlin' Wolf has a number of tracks on this set but unless you own the Bear Family Howlin' Wolf single CDs, you probably haven't heard these. Most of these recordings were recorded by Sam Phillips and released by the RPM label on the West Coast. Big Walter Horton's first recordings were done at Sun Studios and they are a revelation. Do you need this? I'll let you decide for yourself but I'm glad I own it.