Little is known about Robert Johnson, other than apparently having sold his soul to the devil for his unique guitar skills, or so it may seem, and the fact he was murdered by a guy who Robert Johnson had an affair with his wife when he was 27. Regardless of that myth and the little background knowledge about him, this is a pure blues album that is excellent to listen to when the mood strikes. These are the complete recordings of his, done in the mid-1930s.
Let’s check this out. Note that there are often multiple versions of songs, so both will be covered with each individual review of the song.
We kick off with two versions of Kind Hearted Woman Blues. It introduces us to the simple and beautiful singing and acoustic guitar of Robert Johnson. From the word go, it is powerful and moving to hear. It is an addictive sound, with our main man playing the guitar extremely well and singing the blues. The second version is slightly different, yet just as good to hear. Brilliant stuff.
Next on the agenda is I’ll Believe I’ll Dust My Broom which is a great blues sort of tale. Back in the day, there was no such thing as overdubbing, this was all live. Great stuff though, tasty blues licks galore are here.
Sweet Home Chicago has Robert Johnson singing about the city in the USA where a lot of the bluesmen did their thing. It’s a bright and beautiful tale of traveling. It’s great to kick back and listen to, simple and enjoyable music.
Ramblin’ On My Mind is a slower and more stomp like piece to listen to. It’s still excellent, as are all the songs on this recording. It is brilliant to hear both versions here. Robert Johnson pours his heart and soul into the blues and does a fantastic job here.
Next is When You Got A Good Friend is sexual desire put into music, years before Led Zeppelin even approached the topic. Simple, beautiful, and whimsical. A great combination and great music, too. Nice stuff about love/lust.
The brilliant Come On In My Kitchen is next. It’s a lovely tale of blues and love/lust, the sort of thing that is never covered in today’s music. Just great music here. Robert Johnson had his chops for sure, regardless of selling his soul to the devil or not. Brilliant. Both versions are good to hear. The slide guitar is great.
Terraplane Blues is a more complex and upbeat guitar piece by Robert Johnson. These songs are pure magic and should be covered, if not done so already. Still, it is just as good as the others on here. People who dismiss the blues as boring should think twice about that sort of claim, the music here is interesting enough for listening.
Phonograph Blues is an ode to the blues itself. Given that was used back in the day, it is a decent and downtempo piece about said phonograph use. The music here is timeless, it sounds great any day. Both versions sound interesting and unique.
The chugging 32-20 Blues sounds just like a steam train coming along, just on guitar. It’s a little different for this record, but still really excellent listening. Even with just vocals and guitar, it is surprisingly effective. Nice to hear.
The cheery sound They’re Red Hot is a good example of optimistic and fast-paced blues on guitar and vocals alone. A good twist to this set of recordings, and just essential to hear, even today. It’s a crowd-pleaser for blues fans in the 1930s.
Dead Shrimp Blues goes back to a slower pace, with a rather unusual story about the said subject. Yet another solidly brilliant piece from Robert Johnson. Just great to hear.
Cross Road Blues is the tale of travel and blues. It has wonderful slide acoustic guitar here and just sounds really good. Not bad for our master of acoustic blues Robert Johnson here. The second version is just as good as the first.
Next up is Walkin’ Blues which is about the subject matter in the title. It’s a nice bluesy romp. These songs sound far better than most music released today, and that is saying something clear here. A clear case of quality over quantity here, which is the purpose of this record. Excellent.
The next cut Last Fair Deal Gone Down is a melancholy piece about said topic. It’s a deep and emotional piece from Robert Johnson. Simple, melodic, and brilliant. This guy sure had the blues, without a doubt.
Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) is perhaps a revealing fact of Robert Johnson’s deal with the devil. Still, it is a great listen and a nice uptempo and jig sort of song. This cat was very good at being what he was – a great blues guitarist. Another nice piece here.
If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day is a tale of devilish deeds and has catchy blues acoustic guitar playing with slide. Maybe the myth of Robert Johnson is true, but it is a great piece with rhythm and melody well done. A great listen.
Next along is Stones In My Passway, a typical tale for this sort of music. It has lyrics that are so good that Led Zeppelin took them for their own song You Shook Me. Still, it is a good song, and enjoyable.
After that we have I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man. Another brilliant tune and tales of love and lust in the USA. In older times, this sort of thing was not as open as it is today. Pushing the lyrical and musical boundaries here, Robert Johnson was an incredibly gifted musician. This is merely an example of this being the case.
From Four Until Late is about lust and music. It was covered by Cream on their first album Fresh Cream, showing the broad depth of influence that Robert Johnson had musically. It looks back to simpler times in rural USA. A brilliant song.
Hellhound On My Trail is a rather unusual sounding song. Satanic references aside, it sounds very odd for an acoustic number. Robert Johnson, although living for a very short time on this planet, was a talented musician. A great listen.
Next is Little Queen Of Spades, referring to card games and gambling. It’s an unusual topic in 21st-century pop, but not so for a blues musician in the 1930s. Interesting and different. Both versions are great.
Following is Malted Milk. Another great song, and a great blues tale. Mostly about women and desire, it is a cool listening experience. Simple – and effective.
Drunken Hearted Man is about being a depressed drunkard, family matters and has blues guitar to match. It is a fantastic and simple song that one can easily enjoy, as with all the songs on this compilation. Both versions here are really solid.
Me And The Devil Blues is another bluesy tale of satanic deeds. A great song though. The second version is a little quicker and more punchy, although the devil could be a woman with evil intentions.
The next song Stop Breakin’ Down Blues is a song that is devoted to a woman who is breaking down and crying on the street. This could be designed as a song to cheer up a woman. It is a surprisingly cheerful number, for that reason. The second version is just as good as the first.
After that Traveling Riverside Blues is a nice and gentle number to hear, telling a sort of old tale that you would never hear today. This music is absolutely timeless if you like acoustic blues about lust and devilish exploits. Great stuff. There are some incredibly dirty lyrics here too.
Honeymoon Blues is a laidback piece that sort of pictures a honeymoon romance set to blues music. It is a gentle and laidback piece compared to music done today. A good listen. A nice little number here.
Love In Vain is a tale of train travel and heartbreak. It is still a solid listen though. It is quite likely this song was indeed, based on a true experience of Robert Johnson’s. Beautiful and soulful. The second version is as good as the first. A downtempo and epic number.
Lastly, we have Milkcow’s Calf Blues which is a lighter sounding piece than what had come before it. It is a nice way to finish off this collection of songs. A good set of double-takes are here for your enjoyment.
Anyone who wants to know the blues, or see a pre-historical place for the rock music that came afterward, give this collection of Robert Johnson’s recordings a shot. You will not be disappointed and have no doubt influenced other greats, such as Eric Clapton. It’s a great listen.