Top critical review
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Caution: my copy has dropouts
on 12 January 2014
First off, CD 1 of this set has more dropouts than any CD in my collection (manufacturing issue?). I would be more concerned if this was an essential collection, but I bought it more for curiosity than any other reason. There are some obscure tracks that might be hard to find elsewhere, and a bunch of familiar favourites, but I found the collection surprisingly uninteresting. Any serious blues student or Chess fan should already have "Best Ofs" by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc., so this collection can only be recommended to diehard completists or extremely casual and relatively undiscriminating neophytes.
On the other hand, I don't think I've ever previously heard Etta James' version of "I Just Want To Make Love To You," and that is a definite plus. There are also some fine recordings of unremarkable songs (e.g. "Flatfoot Sam" by T.V. Slim) that show just how much could be achieved with limited resources and crude equipment. Probably a testament to the multi-talented Willie Dixon, who is mentioned in the sleeve notes but not represented as an artist on disc. Dropouts apart, these recordings sound clear and fresh and are highly listenable, if somewhat unengaging.