If the blues as a musical form is around a century old, then the blues revival has been going on for at least half that time. During the latter half of the 20th century the blues moved from being a vital form that had given voice to the lives of impoverished sharecroppers and those huddled in the back streets of poor black city neighbourhoods, to become a globally recognised 'brand'. With the passing of the years, the connection with the pre-WW2 world of the Mississippi Delta, which created the blues, faded and the music helped to give birth to newer musical styles, from rock'n'roll to rap. The blues became an institution, something close to a heritage industry. It had an undeniably vivid and dramatic past: but what of its future?
Every new generation seems to throw up a fresh set of disciples, moved by the power and glory of the original blues to keep its flickering flame alive. The first 'blues revival' took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when a predominantly white audience rediscovered the acoustic country blues of prewar performers such as Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. This was followed by the British 'blues boom' spearheaded by bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals who exported the electric sounds of 1950s Chicago back to America and revived interest in the blues in the land where the music was born. Next came the late 1960s 'blues-rock explosion' in which bands such as Cream and the Doors retooled the music of the old blues masters in an exciting new form.
The success of Stevie Ray Vaughan reunited blues and rock audiences more firmly than at any time since the early 1970s. The blues revival that he helped to spark has continued to thrive, through small, specialist record companies and a new generation of talented singers and virtuous musicians, determined to ensure that the blues will never die.
Some of these, such as Shemekia Copeland and Eric Bibb, are the offspring of parents who were steeped in the blues. Others discovered the potency of the music via more circuitous routes. A few continue to play the blues in a straightforward way, but most recognise that the blues is an organic form that must be the subject of continuous evolution. Traditional Delta and Chicago styles are mixed with elements of funk, soul, rock and the other musical developments to which the blues helped to give birth. Then there are the survivors, such as the Blind Boys of Alabama and Irma Thomas who have spent a lifetime playing the music and continue to make an ongoing contribution. All are represented in this collection of recordings, made in the last decade or so – proving that the blues is a music that remains fresh and creative with a constant ability to renew itself.