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Alligator Records 25th Anniversary Collection: 1971-1996

IN A PERFECT WORLD, tiresome blues poseurs like Eric Clapton and Robert Cray wouldn't be allowed within spittin' distance of the legends featured on this Alligator Anniversary Collection. Unlike the passionless, homogenized, copycat shenanigans of the aforementioned, Alligator's entire roster whips up a genuine houserockin' blooze party. This two-disc retrospective from the Chicago-based label showcases 38 artists ranging from slide-guitar strangler Hound Dog Taylor to acoustic sensation Corey Harris. A significant portion of this specially-priced set consists of Windy City-style urban blues; but highlights from the rollicking "Nawlins" vibes of Prof. Longhair and Clifton Chenier, Texas guitar wranglers Albert Collins and Johnny Winter, and a host of others delight. Whether you're an insatiable purist or an inquisitive aficionado exploring the roots of contemporary blues, this collection will not disappoint. This anthology solidifies Alligator's position as the finest American blues label of its era.

--Ron Balley

Los Lobos

Colossal Head
Warner Bros

CESAR ROJAS'S DEVOTION to Mexicano and rockabilly roots takes a back seat to David Hidalgo and Louie Perez's Latin Playboys retro-nuevo experimentation, which yields tunes that sound half-finished on the first or second listening. (By the third spin, many seem to be odd private jokes buried inside subtle homages to rock chestnuts.) Punctuated by incendiary leads and chunky block-and-metal percussion, the 11 songs--notably the title track and the Howlin' Wolf-on-Mars outing "Everybody Loves a Train"--take unexpected, sometimes near-industrial turns. Only one cut, the Spanish-language "Maricela," sounds much like the Los Lobos of "Will the Wolf Survive" vintage, while "Buddy Ebsen Loves the Night Time" is unlike anything you've heard before. Taking chances is what it's all about, and the wolfmen are taking plenty with this fine, eccentric collection.

--Gregory McNamee


Slow River

LEAVE YOUR FRONT door unlocked, hop in the convertible, and drive around listening to some border radio with the ex-Scruffy The Cat songwriter. Chesterman steers a finely tuned vehicle across familiar, intimate territory: twangy, missing-you country rock ("Mailbox"); jangly Byrdsian pop ("Mr. Blue"); boozy honky-tonk for fiddles 'n' geetars ("Going Up There"); reflective folk with a reassuring pedal steel ("Truth Stars"). Throughout, he sings in a lonesome drawl perfectly suited to his lonesome lyrical sketches of crossed wires and missed chances. Chesterman--like Son Volt, Wilco, the Jayhawks and the Bottlerockets--is a traditionalist, but philosophically he lives a continent away from the gold-lined avenues of Music City USA. Good--the last thing the world needs is another well-scrubbed grinning idiot in a big hat.

--Fred Mills

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