Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson

Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson


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In a day and time (post-2000) when tribute albums spring up before a singer has a chance to die, much less become an immortal, it's a relief to get an album that switches the formula. Back to the Crossroads traces the roots -- not the influence -- of Robert Johnson, perhaps the most eulogized singer in blues history. These roots are especially interesting to the rock fan who initially came to Johnson by way of Cream or Eric Clapton or the Allman Brothers, because they show how much the guitarist borrowed, adapted, and synthesized the music of those who came before him. As Elijah Wald points out in the liner notes, Robert Johnson copied Lonnie Johnson's vocal and instrumental arrangement of "Life Saver Blues" almost note for note on "Malted Milk" and "Drunken Hearted Man." Indeed, for those unfamiliar with Lonnie Johnson, it would be easy to guess that he was an urban knockoff of the Delta bluesman. A number of Robert Johnson's vocal inflections can also be traced to Peetie Wheatstraw's delightful "Police Station Blues." The point of the collection, though, isn't to prove that Johnson was a derivative artist, but to outline the rich tradition that he drew from to create his own art. As with other Yazoo compilations, research and sound engineering guarantee a high-quality product with historical significance. Back to the Crossroads also accompanies Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Any fan of pre-WWII blues will want to pick up a copy of Back to the Crossroads.

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