I am not going to review the music on these discs. For the purpose of this review I assume you have already decided if you like/love it or not. When I first bought the vinyl copies I was a 16yr old schoolboy. I still affectionally remember the cover paintings,I wish I still had them as I bet they are valuable. But they never sounded as clear and rich like this. A few years ago I bought the complete recordings on CD and I thought what an astonishing bargain, and under the circumstances for a recording made in the 30's pretty damm fine.
Now I am not a completist or some sort of "Blues anorack" so I thought is it worth rebuying this remastered edition?
Well I did anyway, along with a great book called "Escaping the Delta"
It was a 60th birthday present from me to me and it is beyond astonishing
It has more depth, warmth and bass than I thought was possible, most of it sounds like it was recorded just yesterday and not in the 30's
I am hearing lyrics clearly for the first time that used to just sound like he was mumbling.
In conclusion if it is to your taste you can't get better.
Robert Johnson is one of the most interesting characters in the blues genre. The man recorded very little music in his time, had very little success and was rumoured to have been killed during a lovers quarrel. During the late '60s British blues boom, the likes of Eric Clapton sourced Johnson as a major influence bringing to light an otherwise forgotten array of classic material.
If you have ever been into classic rock at one point or another, you would have heard a cover of Robert Johnson's material from Sweet Home Chicago, Cross Road Blues, Travelling Riverside Blues and I Believe I'll Dust My Broom (Dust My Broom). He has been covered by a wide range of artists from the previously mentioned Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and even the Texan ZZ Top. For fans of those bands, The Centennial Collection features all those songs, more unknown numbers and even some cracking alternative takes. In fact, not only does The Centennial Collection feature every single Robert Johnson recording known to have existed, they are sourced from the original singles, cleaned up digitally and are hands down the cleanest Robert Johnson has ever sounded.
Now, that does not mean that the collection does not have any audible artefacts. Through out the two disc (or three disc LP) album you will hear noticeable pops every now and again. There is also a noticeable hiss behind each song, but these sound issues are nowhere near as bad as previous compilations. But considering how old these recordings are and how damaged past recordings were, the work that have been done to preserve these is extremely impressive.
As far as my opinion goes, The Centennial Collection is a must own for fans of the British blues rock bands and general blues enthusiasts. Robert Johnson might not have necessarily been the greatest of blues men of all time, but his songs were remarkably catchy and featured the kind of beat and structure that would help re-structure rock n roll to this day.
For those wanting to make a purchase of The Centennial Collection, I couldn't recommend this collection on vinyl LP more. Whilst the CD sounds magnificent, there is a certain quality that needs to be heard from the black wax. Not just that, but the presentation found in the tri-fold sleeve is quite beautiful making it quite a fantastic collectors item.
I first bought vol. 2 of "King of the Delta Blues Singers" in 1985 then vol. 1 a few weeks after. In 1990 I bought the "Complete Recordings" box set. Now in 2011 we have the "The Centennial Collection". I will not review the music of Robert Johnson other than to say it is Blues at its very best.
For those who own the 1990 "Complete Recordings" I say replace it with this set! The sound of this set is so startling it was, for me, like hearing the music for the first time. There was a subtlety and softness to Johnson's vioce I had never heard before. One could hear him trailing his singing off at the end of a verse. His guitar playing too is beautifully clear on this set, So dynamic and powerful.
Robert Johnson, born on May 8, 1911, was the most mysterious and influential of all the Delta bluesmen. Bob Dylan once said that "It felt like a ghost had come into the room, a fearsome apparition" when he first heard the LP 'King of the Delta Blues Singers' in 1961. Robert Johnson's intense guitar playing combined with his haunting voice and stark, elemental songs created something utterly compelling. To celebrate Johnson's centenary Sony have now re-issued all 29 of his 1936/37 recordings together with 13 alternative takes. The sound quality is greatly improved on previous compilations thanks to new digital transfers by Steve Lasker and removal of sonic noise by Seth Winner. Many fans of Robert Johnson will undoubtedly want to acquire this magnificent 2CD Centennial Collection.
As most previous reviewers have pointed out, this set represents a big improvement in sound quality over 1990's massive selling "The Complete Recordings". What's immediately noticeable is the consistency of the sound - on "The Complete Recordings", some songs sounded pretty decent (for 1930s country blues recordings) and others were quite rough, though not by the standards of, say, Charley Patton's or Skip James's recordings for the infamous Paramount label a few years previously, which surely deserve the attentions of transfer engineer Stephen Lasker and mastering engineer Seth Winner, who have done such a great job here. On this set, all the songs are of pretty similar quality, with noticeable improvements over the best sounding ones on the earlier set, and huge improvements over the worst ones. While some songs here do have a bit of surface hiss (not removable without damaging the higher frequencies of the music) the actual timbre of the music, especially the guitar, is far truer to life and thus far easier to listen to. Having bought "The Complete Recordings" 20-odd years ago, I didn't end up listening to it that often - either the attempts to clean up the recordings then had been a bit too zealous and damage was done to the actual sound or the initial transfers weren't so hot, leaving it a strangely tough listen even for someone used to the far more crackly likes of Patton or James. These amazing remasters finally come close to giving Robert Johnson's recordings that "he's in the room with you" quality and a warmth that they previously lacked.
Apart from that, there's one extra track - an additional take of "Travelling Riverside Blues" discovered in the mid-1990s, though this doesn't debut here - it's been available since 1998. There's now only one reason for holding on to "The Complete Recordings" and that is the much more extensive booklet - 60 pages as opposed to 28 here. While there is an adequate biography, which benefits from more recent discoveries about Johnson's life, it lacks the lyric transcriptions of the earlier set - quite a big omission in my opinion. In terms of the recordings, however, "The Complete Recordings" has been rendered completely redundant, as have, to a less spectactular degree, the late 1990s remasterings of the two volumes of "King Of The Delta Blues Singers" which superseded it; I'm sure this will be the definitive collection of Robert Johnson's recordings for many years to come.
I already own the 'Complete Robert Johnson' set issued on CD a few years ago, but this set blows it away. For recordings of this vintage the sound quality is revelatory. The improvement over the earlier set makes the purchase a bit of a no brainer. There's a real presence to this version of the recordings.
Why Amazon doesn't post track lists I can't guess.
Kindhearted Woman Blues Kindhearted Woman Blues (ALT TAKE) I Believe I'll Dust My Broom Sweet Home Chicago Rambling On My Mind Rambling On My Mind (ALT TAKE) When You Got A Good Friend When You Got A Good Friend (ALT TAKE) Come On In My Kitchen Come On In My Kitchen (ALT TAKE) Terraplane Blues Phonograph Blues Phonograph Blues (ALT TAKE) 32-20 Blues They're Red Hot Dead Shrimp Blues Cross Road Blues Cross Road Blues (ALT TAKE) Walking Blues Last Fair Deal Gone Down Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day Stones In My Passway I'm A Steady Rollin' Man From Four Till Late Hellhound On My Trail Little Queen Of Spades Little Queen Of Spades (ALT TAKE) Malted Milk Drunken Hearted Man Drunken Hearted Man (ALT TAKE) Me And The Devil Blues Me And The Devil Blues (ALT TAKE) Stop Breakin' Down Blues Stop Breakin' Down Blues (ALT TAKE) Traveling Riverside Blues Traveling Riverside Blues (ALT TAKE) Honeymoon Blues Love in Vain Love in Vain (ALT TAKE) Milkcow's Calf Blues Milkcow's Calf Blues (ALT TAKE)
The "King of the Delta Blues Singers" had too much hiss, while the "Complete Recordings" had removed the hiss, but with it also much of depth of sound. Finally, on this issue, a lot of the surface sound has been removed, while improving the depth. The sound on this CD is so good that you can actually hear a car honk its horn outside the hotel where Robert Johnson was recording. One track even has a brief recording of Johnson speaking before he begins to play, but although the liner notes indicate what he says, I haven't been able to make it out myself.
Speaking of the liner notes, the booklet is quite entertaining and informative, and interestingly makes no reference in the biography of the Crossroads legend, which is refreshing. It manages to discuss Johnson's dramatic improvement as a musician in a way that the legend isn't needed.
Just arrived today and I listened to it start to finish hypnotised by the superb quality. Robert Johnson's music is given a new lease of life and clarity, and his voice and guitar still speak with the same power as ever. Given that he would have desired his songs to be heard without the hiss and the crackle that we're so used to, I can only imagine that he'd be delighted to think that this would one day be available. If you like Robert Johnson at all (and imagine being on this page means that you already know that you do) then this is well worth getting hold of. I normally buy digital music, but I got the CDs here for the added benefit of the notes which give a new biography of his life with contributions from various well known musicians on his impact and influence.