When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll

Box Set

Holiday Gift Guide

When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll

(Bluebird) True to its description as "100 Pioneering Blues Classics," the 4-CD When the Sun Goes Down is a choice sample of blues and other related African-American styles from the vaults of Bluebird, one of the more productive roots labels of the past century. The "Secret History" tag is also apropos, given how many tunes here influenced or were directly copied by many of the well-known names in rock in the past 50 years. The chronologically organized discs -- The First Time I Met the Blues, That's Chicago's South Side, Walk Right In, and That's All Right -- capture some of the best music from the mid-Twenties until the mid-Fifties. When the Sun Goes Down might exist thanks to the success of resurgent compilations like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, but it is equally true that current technology facilitates its existence. Modern digital surgery converts scratchy old 78s into translucent documents on prison songs, fiddle tunes, jug band jigs, country blues, urban stomps, and a cappella sermons. There are too many gems to mention. Larger-than-life artist and activist Paul Robeson evokes the very meaning of spiritual in "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." Leadbelly delivers on prison cuts "Ham an' Eggs" and "Midnight Special," a tune about a Texas train that symbolized freedom to Sugarland penitentiary prisoners, Leadbelly included. Dylan favorite Blind Willie McTell does up his standard "Statesboro Blues," while Bonnie Raitt-fave Sippie Wallace supplies a definitive "I'm a Mighty Tight Woman." Then there's Big Boy Crudup's "That's All Right," made famous by Elvis. And how about country crooner Jimmie Rodgers doing "Blue Yodel #9" with Louis Armstrong on cornet? A few cuts could have been omitted, but with 100 tunes, who's complaining? And with liner notes as entertaining as the songs they describe, When the Sun Goes Down is a time capsule of African-American sonic expression, nothing less than American popular music from the last century.

****

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