Various Artists: Warming by the Devil’s Fire [Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues] 

Various Artists - Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: Warming by the Devil's Fire

Rating: 8.0/10
Rated as: Genre-Sampler, Soundtrack
Compilation Status: Historically Informative
Released: 2003
Recorded:1924–1966
Main Genre: Blues
Specific Genres: Electric Blues, Acoustic Blues, Vaudeville Blues, Gospel Blues, Spirituals
Label: Columbia / Legacy

1 Jelly Roll Morton – Turtle Twist 2 Ma Rainey – See See Rider 3 Son House – Death Letter 4 Billie Holiday – I’m a Fool to Want You 5 Mississippi John Hurt – Big Leg Blues 6 Memphis Jug Band – K.C. Moan 7 Robert Johnson – Sweet Home Chicago 8 Tommy McClennan – Deep Blue Sea Blues 9 Bessie Smith – Muddy Water 10 Sonny Boy Williamson II – Cross My Heart 11 Elmore James – Dust My Broom 12 Muddy Waters – You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had 13 W. C. Handy – Beale Street Blues 14 Charley Patton – Hang It on the Wall 15 Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Up Above My Head (I Hear Music in the Air) 16 Stephen James Taylor – Give Me Freedom 17 Mildred Jones – Mr. Thrill 18 John Lee Hooker – I’ll Never Get Out of These Blues Alive

Headed homebound just once more, to my Mississippi Delta home

Even among his largely very good Martin Scorsese presents the Blues series, Warming by the Devil’s Fire is a standout blues compilation. Some hidden classics, some shining obscurities, great sequencing. This puts you right in the Mississippi Delta. The compilation isn’t exclusively about the big guys and girls of blues, although besides some unadventurous standards (from Elmore James, Ma Rainey or Son House), director Charles Burnett (no relation to T-Bone Burnett) picks some not too obvious tracks by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker etc. – and the stunning, earthy, non-vaudeville Bessie Smith-track „Muddy Water“, one of her most stellar numbers. While these evergreens help to form a historically informed sort of listening canon, for the blues aficionado, the stress is on the less overly exposed tracks: check out Tommy McClennan howling to the deep blue sea, the completely obscure Stephen James Taylor conjuring an ominous, mesmerizing gospel blues, the legendary Charley Patton crashing the party with his cragged guitar and Sister Rosetta Tharpe forcing the whole congregation into crazed dancing right around that devil’s fire with a hollering gospel-blues duet.

In this almost binary choice between standards and obscurities lies the competence of the compilation: It’s like a broad summyary over blues history with occasional swoops into the weird forgotten details. The music goes from swinging New Orleans pieces in the ragtime channel to rural acoustic delta blues to the great female vaudeville blues/jazz vocalists that emerged in the 1920s, features some urban electric blues examples to conclude the development, and also presents some excellent gospel-flavoured blues, mostly from the 1930s to 1940s, yet stretching into the urban 1950s and -60s. The sequencing is chronologically accurate enough to teach you a little implicit lesson of music history, but it never feels stubborn. The diversity is just right for repeated listening while rowing up the Mississippi.

As even the most common blues fan will know most or all of these artists already, it’s nonetheless a great introduction disc for your niece or nephew.