Legend status came late to Buddy Guy, so it shouldn't be surprising that this is the first box set devoted to the blues giant's work. Yet it is still a bit of a shock, because Guy, it seems, has always been a part of the modern blues scene, ubiquitous even in the late '60s at the era's high-profile rock and folk festivals, playing the hippie ...
Legend status came late to Buddy Guy, so it shouldn't be surprising that this is the first box set devoted to the blues giant's work. Yet it is still a bit of a shock, because Guy, it seems, has always been a part of the modern blues scene, ubiquitous even in the late '60s at the era's high-profile rock and folk festivals, playing the hippie ballrooms alongside the major rockers of the day, and being name-dropped by the likes of Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. So this three-CD/one-DVD collection arrives years after it might have, its audio discs stacked with 47 prime samplings of Guy's sizzling guitar work and passionate wailing, covering nearly 50 years' worth of music. That said, those looking for an evenly balanced career overview may ultimately be disappointed: two of the three CDs are drawn from recordings made during Guy's comeback years of the 1990s to the present, after he signed to the Silvertone label (he hadn't recorded in nearly a decade prior to that point), leaving only the first disc devoted to Guy's influential recordings for such labels as Delmark, Vanguard, Artistic, Alligator, JSP, and, most importantly, Chess Records, where -- although he felt stifled by the label's insistence that he soften his lethal attack -- he cut some classic sides working alongside such blues titans as Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, and Junior Wells, the harmonica genius with whom Guy would share stages for many years. That first disc is crammed with classic blues moments -- from the first track, 1957's "The Way You Been Treating Me," Guy is burning, and as he settles into his trademark stinging guitar style and belted-out, passionate vocalizing, leaving behind some of the more derivative aspects of his early playing and singing, it becomes quickly apparent that he was meant to become one of the genre's most influential artists. "I Can't Quit the Blues," from 1968, is a soul blaster par excellence, and by the early '70s, rock luminaries such as Clapton and Bill Wyman of the Stones were lining up to play on his records. Guy's Grammy-winning 1991 debut for Silvertone, Damn Right, I've Got the Blues, marks the onset of his rightful ascendance to blues royalty, and though excessive attention is arguably paid to this period of his career, there is no denying that some of his best music has been made during these years. In particular, tracks from the rootsy 2001 Sweet Tea are as good as anything he'd done before, and even the all-star affairs -- among them "Crawlin' Kingsnake," cut in 2003 with Clapton, B.B. King, Jim Keltner, and others aboard, and 2005's "The Price You Gotta Pay," featuring Keb' Mo', Keith Richards, and others -- find Guy still in tip-top shape. The DVD features a 90-minute documentary and rare live footage, including six full performances from the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival. Ideally this collection (which includes six previously unreleased tracks) would have benefited from a fourth disc expanding upon the pre-Silvertone years, but it's hard to argue with something that's been so long overdue and, despite its lopsided emphasis on the recent output, delivers so much. ~ Jeff Tamarkin, Rovi