Classic Rock presents: Blues Rock – various

various artists

review by J.C. Hartley

This is a two-disc promo from Classic Rock, the "high voltage rock 'n' roll magazine." Knowing I had to review this, my son, being a fan of The Blues Brothers movie, asked if it was Elmore James and John Lee Hooker, but I said - no, this is blues rock.

But what is that anyway, in these days of categorisation? Time was, we were taught that what we call rock came about after rock 'n' roll came to Britain, was fused with the English folk tradition, hepped up by the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of the Windrush generation, and then taken back over the Atlantic and fed to American youth by The Beatles, et al. In retrospect, that sounds like Britain desperately trying to cling onto world influence even in the realm of popular culture. In retrospect, American rock 'n' roll of the 1950s sounds as if it came from a whole different root than the Mississippi blues.

Some of the tracks on these discs represent what we used to call rhythm and blues, or R 'n' B; which is now the kind of urban soul sung by sassy girl groups with long legs, and before being appropriated by guitar driven blues rock was a different kind of soul to that, and so it goes on.

Every year in the shops, albums appear packaged from singles and album off-cuts bearing titles like 'Ultimate Air Guitar', or 'Sweaty Stratocaster Legends' or whatnot, and quite often you get a side and a bit of good old favourites and then the material peters out into 1980s' wannabes, or stuff that barely sneaks by the trade description with a borrowed riff.

The beauty of this collection is that here are some of the usual old favourites, mixed in with lesser-known tracks from bands where you would have expected an old favourite; consequently the listening experience is something of a delight. While the ambit of what might constitute blues-rock has perhaps been stretched in places, who cares, as we've already established categorisation is an amorphous thing; my son's media player applies the most bizarre categories when organising his music, and I don't want to fall into the same trap as machines.

So we get Strange Brew (Cream), Man Of The World (Fleetwood Mac), Black Betty (Ram Jam), and Radar Love (Golden Earring), but we also get Free doing I'm A Mover, Alexis Korner's idiosyncratic version of Get Off My Cloud and Groundhog Blues from Tony McPhee and the boys. ZZ Top's La Grange with its Howlin' Wolf/ Beefheart sound-a-like vocal, leads into Status Quo and Roadhouse Blues, which is a minor revelation in this company, and reminds you that they could drive a 12-bar along with the best of them. Dr Feelgood and Steve Miller provide a couple of classics, and in a remarkably filthy notion Johnny Winter confesses that he's been looking for a young lady to eat his jelly roll (part of his packed lunch, I expect), and suggests his girlfriend try and persuade her parents that he's "a little schoolboy, too."

Taj Mahal, Chicken Shack, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robin Trower and George Thorogood put in strong appearances, but Joe Walsh and Rocky Mountain Way, which was an old favourite of mine, sounds a bit too Peter Frampton in this company. Pat Travers' Snortin' Whiskey (And Drinking Cocaine) is a non-PC delight, and Hunter and Ronsen's Once Bitten, Twice Shy simply isn't heard enough. The second disc ends with The Band and The Weight, but it might have been better to go out with the penultimate track a wonderful live I'm Goin' Home by Ten Years After.

This is a terrific compilation, but the increasingly narrow categorisation of pop means many people will never hear it, in the face of bland and imitative packaged guitar bands hailed as the next big thing, until the next big thing. If it's any consolation my son declares himself bored with the endless round of indie bands feted by the business, but then he plays guitar himself.