During the last quarter of the 20th century, and thanks largely to Eric Clapton's remarkable devotion to his memory, Robert Leroy Johnson posthumously became the most celebrated Delta blues musician of the pre-WWII era. Among numerous editions of his complete works and various anthologies that combine his recordings with those of his contemporaries and followers, J.S.P.'s The Road to Robert Johnson and Beyond combines many of his essential performances with those by dozens of other blues artists from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Henry Thomas to Muddy Waters and Elmore James. 105 tracks fill four CDs with several decades' worth of strongly steeped blues that trace the African American migration from the deep south on up into Chicago. This is a fine way to savor the recorded evidence, as primary examples from Blind Blake, Charley Patton, Son House, Charlie McCoy, Walter Vincson, Skip James, Ma Rainey, Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Scrapper Blackwell, Leroy Carr, Lonnie Johnson, and Peetie Wheatstraw lead directly to early modern masters like Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, Johnny Temple, Leroy Foster, Johnny Shines, Homesick James Williamson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Snooky Pryor, Little Walter, and David Honeyboy Edwards, among many others.
Eddi Reader has proven her worth as a sublime singer of pop and folk material (and beyond), but this returns her full-bore to her Scottish roots. Born from the concerts she did at the 2002 Celtic Connections festival, it's a decidedly lush performance that hauls in several well-known Celtic names like Phil Cunningham, John McCusker, and Ian Carr to help her along. But it's Reader's rendition of Robert Burns' classics that's the key here. She picked familiar material, songs that have become part of the folk continuum that can be both a blessing and a curse. But she reinvents something like "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose," investing it with rich emotion. She positively flies on the more romantic songs, such as "Ae Fond Kiss," but she brings a surprising depth to "Charlie Is My Darling" and the chestnut "Auld Lang Syne," and "Ye Jacobites" sizzles with tension. The arrangements go for the cinematic rather than the intimate, putting them on the dangerous edge of new age. But such is the quality of everyone involved that there's no danger of teetering over and it becomes a tour de force. It is one of the highlights of Reader's splendid career, and even "Wild Mountainside," decidedly not a Burns song, fits in perfectly.