Michael Bloomfield was, for my money, the best white blues guitar player of the 1960s. He started recording for Columbia Records in 1964, and his stinging electric guitar ignited Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" LP in 1965. His work with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, later with his own group, the Electric Flag, and on Al Kooper's "Super Session" album in '68 cemented Bloomfield's reputation as the guitar player to beat. There was something about his sound that always got to me, Bloomfield continued to record into the '80s, and the records all have that killer guitar sound. He's not flashy or a slinger that cuts loose with a slew of notes -- no, Bloomfield had amazing tone and soul; every note was there for a reason. "From His Head, To His Heart, To His Hands," a new three-CD/one-DVD box set collects his best stuff, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The remastering is first-rate, Bloomfield never sounded better.
Another guitar wizard, Johnny Winter, has a stunning new box-set collection, "True to the Blues." Hailing from Beaumont, Texas, Winter is a different breed of blues player -- he's fast and mean, a true force of nature. Winter's live recordings cut to the heart of the matter; his kind of raw powered fretwork doesn't need a studio to strut his stuff. He started recording in 1969 and is still going strong. You'd never mistake his sound for a British player, and his gutsy, take-no-prisoners vocals are no less distinctive. The four-disc collection doesn't have any duds -- it's all of Winter's best work, truly astonishing stuff!
Mobile Fidelity's ravishing SACD remaster of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "The Sky is Crying" ups the ante, sound-wise. Vaughan is another Texas-born guitarist of the highest order, this single-disc outtakes collection has more audiophile appeal than the CDs I'm reviewing here. The SACD reveals more of the texture and dynamics of Vaughan's sound than a CD ever could. His reworking of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" is flat-out gorgeous. The disc's other standout tracks include the jazzy "Chitlins Con Carne," which really swings, while the solo acoustic album closer "Life By the Drop" brought a tear to my eye. Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in 1990; Rolling Stone magazine ranked him as the twelfth greatest guitarist of all time.
Then there's Benmont Tench's "You Should Be So Lucky" album, which arrived in February. Tench has been with Tom Petty from the earliest days of the Heartbreakers, but this time the keyboard player is on his own. Rockers and slow, simmering tunes commingle nicely, and the live-in-the-studio sound is miles ahead of most contemporary recordings.