You think YOU’VE got the blues? Listen to this collection and feel better almost immediately, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this disc is a fairly wide-ranging "thematic" compilation of classic and equally fine lesser-known blues songs with the hook being "stuck in prison" (figuratively) or in the case of many of these performers...literally.
Not to derive delight from others’ misery, but imagine being stuck in a little room with bars and a crummy view of nothing nice. A little more than half of this set is devoted to acoustically performed country blues and Delta blues styles (Bukka White, Blind Lemon Jefferson, the great Blind Blake) and what’s sometimes known as "folk blues" (Leadbelly) - this unpolished, feral stuff makes the room darker and the air thicker no matter when you play it.
There’s Lighnin’ Hopkins, one of the links between country blues and electrified urban styles, as well as one of the first "crossover" stars of the blues, B.B. King. The more "modern" (i.e., electric) Chicago deputation is represented by Sonny Boy Williamson (the 2nd, who craggy, raspy voice can make BB sound like Jeremy Irons), harmonica great Junior Wells, and Chicago’s West Side icon Otis Rush, whose "Violent Love" (who thought up these lyrics?!?!) is silly and swell simultaneously.
Another reason to purchase Penitentiary Blues is the proceeds are earmarked to benefit the victims of the hurricane called Katrina. Whether you’re a hardcore blues fan, a neophyte looking to dig the real stuff or you want to take a chance on "expanding" the musical life of a friend, this here item is what the marketing wizards call a "win-win" situation.