Music Reviews

Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection

Various Artists


You can either praise Bruce Iglauer or damn him, depending on how you chose to look at things. Thirty some odd years ago, this young white boy founded Alligator Records, one of the main reasons the blues experienced its amazing renaissance in the ’80s. By no small stretch of the imagination, without Iglauer’s tireless efforts, said renaissance might’ve never happened, and the treasure trove of blues re-releases – from the excellent Robert Johnson box set to MCA reissues of Chess stars like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf – might’ve gone undiscovered by a whole new generation of listeners. In short, without Alligator, the blues might have quite possibly disappeared. Then again, if you want to damn Iglauer and Alligator for creating the atmosphere that makes every new blues artist sound pretty much the same from the last, well, that’s your prerogative. Let’s face it, since the initial renaissance, the world of the blues has become pretty stagnant, full of endless shuffles, meaningless lyrics and mind-bogglingly dull wanking solos. Any dipstick can noodle around with a Stratocaster on the major scale and sing about his bad woman what done him wrong, and boom, call it the blues. So Alligator’s influence on popular music has been a double-edged sword; there’s a lot of repetitive crap but there’s also a lot of gold. You just have to know where to look. Thankfully, Alligator has made it easy for us with Alligator Records: 30th Anniversary Collection, the third of such specially priced, double-disc collections the label has put out. Like with the previous two – the 20th and 25th anniversary collections – this two-disc collection compiles the best from Alligator’s multitude of blues, blues-rock and what have you artists. Actually, the collection’s pretty neat for both hardcore blues fans and newcomers to the genre. There’s plenty of neat stuff here, from Corey Harris’ excellent “Basehead,” a warning about the “new slavery” of crack addiction, to The Holmes Brothers’ soulful, gospel-influenced “Homeless Child.” Big names like Johnny Winter, Junior Wells, Robert Crazy, Marcia Ball, and Koko Taylor are given equal representation with newcomers like Shemekia Copeland and Coco Montoya, making for a rather nifty mix. However, the collection pays for itself on the second disc, a collection of live cuts culled from Alligator releases and unreleased live songs. The scion of zydeco, C.J. Chenier turns Hank Williams’ country nugget “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” into a funky, two-steppin’ romp, and Son Seals and Elvin Bishop get plumb evil cuttin’ heads throughout “Sadie.” Fittingly enough, the 30th Anniversary Collection ends with a live rendition of the late Hound Dog Taylor’s “It’s Alright.” Fitting because the deceased slide guitar wildman was Alligator’s flagship artist, and his manic performance perfectly sums up Alligator’s dedication to keeping blues alive. Curse it or love it, Alligator Records’ impact on the blues cannot be denied and although the blues is more pale than vibrant when it comes to originality, as long as Iglauer’s little label is around, things are all right.

Alligator Records, PO Box 602345, Chicago, IL 60660

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