Atlantic Blues (1949-1970)

Ahmet Ertegun co-founded Atlantic Records in 1947 and, by virtue of his taste and big ears, turned it into one of the most influential independent labels in history. Don’t expect the down-and-dirty stuff on Atlantic Blues (1949–1970) (Rhino Handmade), a four-CD collection displaying the breadth of Atlantic’s reach; Ertegun’s artists stirred in a liberal dose of swing and created music that would be coined by his future producer Jerry Wexler as “rhythm and blues.” The set has pedestrian packaging, and its liner notes are skimpy, to say the least, but the music is purely magnificent. Ertegun brought black music, previously subjugated to “race records,” to the forefront, and among the label’s practitioners were a disproportionate number of Texans. Stars like T-Bone Walker, Leadbelly, Freddie King, and Esther Phillips join artists like the criminally underrated Floyd Dixon and the mysterious Lawyer Houston to make up nearly a quarter of the eighty selections here. Houston’s and Leadbelly’s early offerings are the closest to traditional blues, and while Dixon’s piano-driven boogie holds its own alongside giants like Joe Turner, the incomparable (and already famous) Walker overshadows even Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Lovers of R&B: You won’t top this one.

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