D'you like American music?

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Yeah, I know already. Five stars is as high as we're supposed to go with these reviews. So sue me.

But before you do that? Get this. No, I'm not just talking to the blues crowd this time. I'm talking to any literate human being reading this page who appreciates the importance and significance of good music. Look, man, please don't pass this up because blues, gospel or folk isn't your self-assigned category. I say unto you: Resist the temptation to be a lemming. Don't be dragged off that cliff. Free your mind.

Often, when major labels decide to put together some huge collection of music from various artists, the result is little more than a lot of songs from a lot of names all thrown together with no apparent evidence that any intelligent thought was involved in the process. But bunches of songs from bunches of cool musicians all on one CD do not automatically equal a worthwhile CD. There has to be an audible reason why they're all on the collection together.

This collection succeeds in that effort far beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic music fan. The superb selection of artists and music reaches back to a 1921 recording of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, then progresses through time past such luminaries as Paul Robeson, the Dixie Hummingbirds and Robert Johnson, until the path leads to such modern-day artists as Shirley Caesar, Bob Dylan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Indigo Girls and Keb' Mo'.

A 60-page mini-booklet provides a small bio-history to accompany each of the 45 songs. Also included is a 27-page historical overview of folk, gospel and blues music. This is a collection that could easily be used as part of a class on music history, American cultural history or a variety of other related areas of study.

If you love American music, you can't do without this one.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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