When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll

Why pay $50 for yet another collection that reveals for listeners the musical cave paintings that eventually became the language of rock 'n' roll? Because this one might be the one, that's why.

This anthology digs deeper than most roots-music compilations, stretching beyond the obvious. Not only does it uncover fresh helpings of overlooked Mississippi Delta antiquities, but it also burrows into other genres to find important musical DNA from jazz, minstrel, gospel, and hillbilly. Culled from the vaults of the defunct Bluebird and Victor labels, the massive boxed set -- one hundred songs strong -- captures a time when the lines separating musical categories were less defined; those raw styles of yesterday mesh with a natural beauty that would be unthinkable now. Consider the incredible "Blue Yodel # 9," where C&W pioneer Jimmie Rodgers pairs off with jazz legend Louis Armstrong, with Rodgers' hickory-smoked vocals blending perfectly into Armstrong's raucous horn work. Imagining a modern undertaking of the same proportion -- say, something like Wynton Marsalis meets Garth Brooks -- would result in, at best, an overproduced clash of egos.

But this collection is more than a trip to the musical boneyard. These songs brim with an earthy immediacy. Red Allen's "Get the Mop" is a rowdy feast. Rev. JM Gates' creepy sermon "Somebody's Been Stealin'" would seem at home in either a church or a saloon. Lizzie Miles, meanwhile, sounds dangerously sincere when she croons to Jelly Roll Morton, "I Hate a Man Like You." And when Tommy Johnson sings "I asked her for water and she gave me gasoline" in "Cool Drink of Water Blues," it marks one of the cruelest moments in music.

RCA sells its collection short when it dubs it a "secret history of rock 'n' roll." Sure, every British "invader" from the 1960s borrowed or stole something from this music, but there are seeds here that tie together such diverse artists as Woody Guthrie, Peggy Lee, Merle Haggard -- and even Lawrence Welk.


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