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Various Artists

Bob Corritore, according to the booklet accompanying this live set recorded at the Valley's premier blues hut, the Rhythm Room, is "a native Chicagoan who started a small blues label at the tender age of 21 and who possesses one of the world's finest blues record collections. Corritore moved to the wilds of Arizona in 1981. He soon began making his mark as a local musician [a harp player] as well as hosting a radio program entitled 'Those Lowdown Blues' . . . It was only a short leap from there to promoter and, now, club owner."

And then only a 10-year leap to this 13-song anthology compiling some of the crème du blooze that's gone down in the past decade at Corritore's venue.

A pair of obvious standouts on RRB are the Kim Wilson cuts (recorded in February '99 at the same gigs that yielded parts of the Fab T-Birds' singer/harpist's recent live solo debut, Smokin' Joint), most notably a rich and soulful take of "Eyesight to the Blind," which is, quite naturally, far truer to the Sonny Boy Williamson original than the familiar Who (Tommy) version. Everyone's favorite high-country wild man R.L. Burnside makes no less than four solo '94 appearances here (don't miss his quirky version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'"), his signature Hooker-ish guitar drone joined at the hip to his spooky, blood-at-midnight vocals. Quips Burnside by way of intro, "If the Budweiser lasts, I think we'll make it!"

Muddy Waters alumnus Mojo Buford (vocals/harp) serves up the collection's second Sonny Boy Williamson number, a slinky, yearning "In My Younger Days." Consider Buford's '98 lineup: guitarist Bob Margolin (also a Waters veteran), drummer Chico Chism and guitarist Johnny Rapp. Both Rapp and Chism turned up in Henry Gray's '96 backing band (two cuts here, including Lowell Fulson's brutal "Sinner's Prayer"). And Rapp, along with a very fine 'n' sleek harp player by the name of Corritore, also backed up Sam Lay (two cuts) this past March. A performance each by guitarist Sonny Rhodes and belter Nappy Brown, both sharing the same band, round out the disc. One might surmise that when a band plays the Rhythm Room, it's an everyone's-invited family affair kinda thang where anything goes onstage as long as it's lean, mean and bluesy.

Liner notes man Robert Baird (former New Times music editor and currently the M.E. for New York-based Stereophile) writes of the venue, "Ten years and one hell of a lot of glorious shows later, the Rhythm Room is proudly celebrating its 10-year anniversary with this record. [Corritore] and his club have built a reputation that extends far beyond the environs of Phoenix." Corritore himself adds that on "night after night [at the Rhythm Room] there are lots of magical moments and these are just a few that happened to be caught on tape."

Indeed. Superbly well-recorded in terms of fidelity and ambiance, to say nothing of the excitement that fairly drips from the jewel case, Rhythm Room Blues offers at least 13 compelling reasons to pack your bags and head to the desert.

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Fred Mills