Down Home Country Blues Classics
Arhoolie CD 101
Down Home Urban Blues Classics
Arhoolie CD 102
Louisiana Cajun Classics
Arhoolie CD 103
Tex-Mex Conjunto Classics
Arhoolie CD 104
Review by Art Menius for Music Boulevard 1996
Since the 1960s Arhoolie Records has released a rich series of LP’s and CD’s documenting the roots music of the Americas. These four titles inaugurate a ten part American Masters series of budget compilation discs drawn from the riches of their catalog. Each provides fifteen stellar tracks mixing acknowledged masters with less well known artists and combining material originally waxed for Arhoolie with songs from the 78 rpm era the label reissued. Virtually all the selections are also available on Arhoolie individual artist compact discs.
Louisiana Cajun Classics demonstrates the breadth of both the label and these projects. It reaches all the way from contemporary touring ensembles like Beausoleil and the California Cajun Orchestra to pioneers like Joseph Falcon and Harry Choates and giants of the Folk Revival such as Dewey Balfa. Cajun samplers have proven legion, but Louisiana Cajun Classics provides the best introduction to the music ever. Very highly recommended.
The other Tex-Mex disc is nearly as good. Rarely has the word “classics” on an album been so well deserved. Tex-Mex Conjunto Classics offers Norteno pioneers like Narciso Martinez, patriarch Don Santiago Jimenez, and the incomparable Lydia Mendoza and a fine sampling of the generation that emerged during the 1960s – Flaco Jimenez, Steve Jordan, and Santiago Jimenez, Jr.
The two blues collections rank only slightly behind. The country blues collection contains a wealth of good material, but mostly consists of 1960s and 1970s recordings made originally for Arhoolie. On the other hand, Fred McDowell and John Jackson, heard on Down Home Country Blues Classics, were at their absolute best then. Down Home Urban Blues Classics offers a good spread of styles and generations, mixing reissues and Arhoolie originals. It features, however, fewer major names than the other sets, but Sonny Boy Williamson, Katie Webster, Big Mama Thornton, and Charlie Musselwhite are formidable artists.
I wish these collections offered something, anything in the way of liner notes beyond indicating the CD from which each cut came. The music is great and generous, well more than an hour per CD. These collections work both as an introduction to Arhoolie and as worthy samplers of the genre presented. At the budget price, you simply cannot go wrong with these compilations.