Picking up in April 1949, where The Mercury Blues Story: Midwest Blues Volume 1 left off, Mercury Blues Story: Midwest Blues Volume 2 continues the label's tale through 1955. The first set was a vivid, patchwork affair, with a large, eclectic mix of singers and bands all hailing from the Midwest, of course. In contrast, this compilation is more focused, featuring a smaller core of artists, including several making encore appearances. That includes Sunnyland Slim, whose orchestra backed St. Louis Jimmy on Volume 1. On this set, Slim is still behind the keyboard, but now he also takes the mic, first with the renamed Sunny Boys, and later in the set with his new trio. A powerful vocalist and a swanky pianist, the artist belts out a series of stunning blues numbers, six in all, that are guaranteed to hold you spellbound. Slim's orchestra features singing guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr., while Slim himself provided piano and backing vocals in Lockwood's own aggregate. Among the quartet of excellent numbers Lockwood offers here are stellar covers of Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" and Big Boy Crudup's "(I'm Gonna) Dig Myself a Hole." Also returning from the first volume is Big Bill Broonzy. His "Get Back (Black, Brown and White)" is a scathing indictment of everyday racism, all the more searing for Broonzy's unruffled vocal delivery. Here, and on two more numbers, the singing guitarist is accompanied solely by bassist Ransom Knowling, another four numbers find Knowling still by his side, but now backed by an expanded band that also features pianist Memphis Slim. Memphis Slim himself takes the mic on eight tracks with his own aggregates, dueting with Terry Timmons on a trio of them, and with a pair of singing saxophonists on another two. Far removed from the smooth, more urbane Broonzy and regardless of Slim's build, he has a big voice, and his booming, powerful singing remains an utter contrast to his delicate piano work. These artists deservedly grab the lion's share of the disc, but there's still room for two less heralded artists -- Otto "Sax" Mallard and Ray Snead. Mallard's sensuous sax virtually duets with vocalist Andrew Tibbs on "Leap Year Blues," and his soulful skills are equally apparent within Broonzy's Little Big Orchestra. As for Snead, he insists "I'm a Good Rockin' Daddy," and listening to this jumping number, one can't help but agree. In keeping with the high quality of this series, the sound is fabulous, the packaging superb, and the music top-notch. An absolute must for blues fans. ~ Jo-Ann Greene
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