This solid 2-disc compilation celebrates two decades of this label's existence. There are many worthwhile tracks but few surprises.
Starting with its 20th anniversary in 1991, every five years brings another double Alligator collection, and 2011 was no exception. While the 35th edition –released in 2006 – logically featured 35 songs, the compilers couldn't quite squeeze 40 onto this 40th anniversary disc, even though owner Bruce Iglauer does admit to fading a few endings off prematurely in order to maximize the list, which hits 38 selections. The trick with these albums is to both pay tribute to the label's storied past while including enough recent acts to connect the dots between the house-rocking music Iglauer built his company on, and the more modern yet still roots-based sounds he's released during the last five years. He does an excellent job here, mixing not just old and new, but male and female musicians who have recorded for Alligator over the decades.
It’s been 45 years since Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers entered a Chicago recording studio to cut the album that would change the face of American music forever. That self-titled release came out in August 1971 and launched an American institution, Alligator Records. Label boss Bruce Iglauer ran the operation from an efficiency apartment in the Windy City. In the subsequent decades, his imprint would issue roughly 300 titles, including releases from Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, Luther Allison, and Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials, among many, many others. When quality blues records were hard to come by and majors turned their attention to the latest fashions, Iglauer stuck it out, giving a loyal fan base music they didn’t know they were missing. To see the Alligator logo on an album’s spine meant you were getting something handpicked from a friend who loved that music as much as you did. Maybe even more.
This is a specially priced, two-CDs-for-the-price-of-one photo-cube set, loaded with great stuff from Charlie Musselwhite, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Johnny Winter, Billy Boy Arnold, Lonnie Mack, and a host of others who have trotted their wares on the label over the years. Besides giving the novice one great introduction to the label (as the music runs from traditional to modern), the big bonus here is a treasure trove of previously unissued tracks from Roy Buchanan (a chaotic version of Link Wray's "Jack the Ripper"); Floyd Dixon (a recut of his Blues Brothers-approved hit "Hey Bartender"); Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland in a marvelous outtake from the Showdown! album ("Something to Remember You By"); and the band that started it all, Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers, with a crazed version of Elmore James' "Look on Yonder's Wall," as sloppy as it is cool. Very good stuff.
After 35 years and the release of over 2800 contemporary blues tracks, it's safe to say that Bruce Iglauer's Alligator Records is the world's premier blues label, particularly if sheer numbers are factored in, and while the label's releases tend to sound mind-numbingly similar sometimes, this two-disc overview of Alligator's history shows how much raw vitality the blues still has in its tank. Alligator Records 35X35, arranged chronologically and featuring a selection drawn from each of the artist's debut albums with Alligator, gets rolling right where it all began, with Hound Dog Taylor's "She's Gone" from 1971, and marches through to 2004, closing the second disc with a stunning version of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (here called "A Dying Man's Plea") by the great Mavis Staples, who makes clear the deep affinity of gospel to the blues, or vice versa, since the two forms philosophically complete each other, the way Saturday marches straight into Sunday.