Various Artists
21st Century Blues
K-Tel 6278-2

If this is the future of blues in the coming millennium, get me the hell out of here. Hail me a retro time-travel taxi to 1952, and right now!

21st Century Blues is not actually about tomorrow’s blues; it’s a guitar-centric hodgepodge of songs by rock’n’roll artists with blues proclivities, and vice versa. The operative word, again, is guitar — screaming electric guitar — and blues may or may not have much to do with it.

The Walter Trout Band’s "Runnin’ Blues" is a worthy homage to Jimi Hendrix or circa-1970s Robin Trower, but blues it ain’t. There are some legitimate blues cuts here from Tinsley Ellis, Chris Anderson, Jimmy Thackery and Joe Louis Walker, for example, but the inclusion of tunes such as Gov’t Mule’s "Temporary Saint" or the Allman Brothers’ "Leavin’" make it impossible to regard 21st Century Blues as a well-considered blues anthology, even one with an electric guitar focus.

Why does this matter? Because, for the uninitiated, for beginners who want to discover the blues, this release will give them a perspective of the music that doesn’t reflect its stylistic variety and cultural diversity. Further, if you use this material as a yardstick for what constitutes good blues, you’d never know what a real blues singer sounds like. Face it, hot guitar licks just aren’t enough: Most of the memorable blues guitarists, from Robert Johnson to Elmore James to B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, were/are also emotionally compelling vocalists. Imagine Gary Moore’s "Still Got the Blues" with a proper blues arrangement, sung by a real blues or R&B singer such as B.B. or Ray Charles or Etta James, and that should say it all.

— Bryan Powell

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.