On this excellent release from the World Music Network's ever-reliable Rough Guide series, a host of unknown early blues artists get their due. While Robert Johnson, Son House, and a handful of other greats from the 1920s and '30s have become widely recognized icons of the pre-war blues era, so many lesser-known, though no less talented, players have slipped through the cracks. Opening with Henry Thomas' spirited "Fishing Blues" (complete with a pan flute solo), The Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues winds its way through a series of wonderful and obscure country-blues gems.
The Rough Guide series of compilations is generally excellent, but every once a while a dud does pop out. While not bad, this is far from everything it could be, given the range and history of gospel music. It captures some, but not all, the big names. And so listeners have vintage Five Blind Boys of Alabama with "Stand By Me," a song they later revisited, but no Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. And while the Soul Stirrers are here, it's not a cut from their heyday with Sam Cooke, and where are the Highway Q.C.'s? Gospel's real golden age, in the '50s, is woefully under-represented, and while the Golden Gate Quartet, whose influence was paramount to so many, is mentioned in the notes, there's nothing by them. Mahalia Jackson justifiably gets two tracks, but no Clara Ward, and you have to wonder about the inclusion of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. The new generation of gospel seems to be lacking, with nothing from the critically acclaimed Sacred Steel school.
The Rough Guide to Irish Folk provides an introduction to the different styles and artists within the genre. Established groups like De Danann and Deata and newer artists perform jigs, reels, and "sean nos, " a traditional form of a cappella singing. Rich in heritage and creativity, this collection should whet the appetite of anyone interested in contemporary Irish folk performers.