Various Artists: Confessin’ The Blues

Various Artists
Confessin’ The Blues
(BMG/Universal)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The subtitle of this umpteenth collection of (mostly) classic blues reads, “Blues masterpieces hand-picked and curated in collaboration with the Rolling Stones.” That high-profile reference alone should guarantee a few more dollars in the bank account of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, the beneficiary of the profits from this set. It’s a well-established organization that “promotes, protects and preserves the blues for future generations.” So far, so benevolent.

Things become slightly more problematic as you inspect the 42 tracks. It’s a no-brainer to start with Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone,” an obvious opener and one of four here from the legendary bluesman who the Stones, at least in their earliest incarnation, covered. Others only tentatively link to the blues. Chuck Berry (“Carol,” “Little Queenie”), Bo Diddley (“Mona,” “You Can’t Judge A Book by Its Cover”) and Dale Hawkins (“Suzie Q”), while certainly influences on the Stones since they played those tunes and brought much needed attention to these artists before they were considered icons, could have been replaced with more definitively blues personalities.

Genuine, respected, American Delta and Chicago legends whose songs were overhauled by the Stones such as Robert Johnson (“Love In Vain,” “Stop Breaking Down”), Rev. Robert Wilkins (“The Prodigal Son”), Slim Harpo (“I’m A King Bee” but oddly no “Shake Your Hips”), Howlin’ Wolf (“Little Red Rooster”) and Mississippi Fred McDowell (“You Gotta Move”) appear with the selections the band covered. That furthers the Stones’ connection with the acknowledged architects of the genre. Somewhat obscure folks such as Big Maceo Merriweather, Little Johnny Taylor, Jay McShann (who wrote and performs the title track), Amos Milburn and Boy Blue help make this more diverse than just another collection of familiar names.

If there was any question about the Stones’ continued affiliation to the blues after all these decades pounding away in the rock and roll trenches, it was answered resoundingly with 2016’s surprisingly popular and critically acclaimed Blue And Lonesome. They follow with this excavation into their roots, meant to educate those who might have first been exposed to this most American of music on that release. It’s difficult to quibble with the inclusions the Stones chose, especially when they dig deeper to expose lesser heard gems such as Wolf’s “Just As I Treat You” and Little Walter’s “I Got To Go,” neither a major hit.

Additionally, the cover painting by Ron Wood is cool, 48 pages of liner notes detail the acts and their contributions to the genre, and profits go to a good cause. Hardcore blues lovers are likely familiar with the majority of this music, but that’s not who Confessin’ The Blues is geared towards. For anyone not already a blues buff, this is a love letter from the Stones to their forebears and a solid compilation that serves as a terrific on-ramp to some of America’s finest and most storied artists.

Once again, these plucky Brits expose Americans to essential homegrown sounds they need to understand and appreciate, just like they did 50 years ago.