Review: Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection

Posted on: Tuesday, Mar 1, 2011

(Alligator Records – ALCD 125 / 126)

Here’s a lovely package put together by label boss Bruce Iglauer to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the world-famous Alligator Records – a two cd collection covering the label’s early artists such as Hound Dog Taylor, Son Seals and Koko Taylor, current blues performers such as Michael Burks and Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, as well as some of the more rootsy people now on board . . . the likes of JJ Grey & Mofro and Anders Osborne.

Bruce Iglauer admits in the nice accompanying booklet how hard it was to choose the 38 tracks here but has succeeded in getting a fine balance across all genres of the blues and some bang up to date picks. The collection is further enhanced by a short accompanying essay on each track about the artist or band and anecdotes from Iglauer.

The ‘Genuine Houserockin’ Music’ tag that is the label’s slogan has certainly been kept true every since the young blues fan, then working for Bob Koester of Delmark Records saw an energetic performance in Florence’s Lounge in Chicago from the raw boogie of slide guitarist Hound Dog Taylor . . . by May of 1971 Bruce Iglauer had the band in the studio for the first release on Alligator Records, followed by recordings from other artists working the same clubs, the likes of Koko Taylor, Son Seals, Fenton Robinson and Carey Bell.

The blues guitar is well represented with some of the finest players ever, from ‘The Iceman’ himself, Albert Collins, with a trademark stinging “I Ain’t Drunk”, to the incendiary Michael Burks, featured here with “Strange Feeling” from his “Iron Man” release. Bay Area favourite Tommy Castro delivers on “Backup Plan” from his superb “Hard Believer” album.

Away from the guitar slingers, the diverse selection has the joyous boogie piano of Texan Marcia Ball with “The Party’s Still Going On”; current contender for ‘Queen of the Blues’, Janiva Magness, with the funky “Slipped, Tripped And Fell In Love”, from the wonderful “The Devil Is An Angel Too” release of last year; and from a personal favourite of recent times, the brilliant Anders Osborne with “Echoes Of My Sins”. His “American Patchwork” was a good example of how Alligator has kept up to date with roots music, it was by no means a blues record but full of absolutely killer guitar work and great songs.

The second cd kicks off in fine style with another personal favourite from the “Showdown!” album, that brought together established giants Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, with the then young Robert Cray . .  a blues guitar jamboree of the highest order, represented here by “T-Bone Shuffle” . . . boy, was it really 1985? Another of the label’s long-standing artists, Louisiana-born guitarist Lonnie Brooks is here with “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me”; with afore-mentioned label inspiration Hound Dog Taylor performing “Sitting At Home Alone”, an unfamiliar slower tune as opposed to the raucous boogie, and picked from the live “Release The Hound” that came out in 2004.

A detailed track-by-track analysis would probably take forever, safe to say there is hardly a weak pick here on these two disc . . . which also include Koko Taylor, Guitar Shorty, William Clarke, Charlie Musselwhite, Johnny Winter, Tinsley Ellis, Katie Webster . .  and many, many more. An essential purchase I would suggest for those just arriving on the blues scene and also for anyone wanting two hours plus of all that is best in the blues and beyond . . . excellent!


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