The legendary aspects of the life of Robert Johnson are so pervasive that it's easy to lose sight of the truth of the life of the man and even his music. The blues icon would have turned 100 this year and Sony Legacy is re-issuing Johnson's scant-yet-indispensable recorded legacy to commemorate his birth.
Robert Johnson: The Complete Original Masters - Centennial Edition is nearly identical to the Complete Recordings box set that has sold over one million copies. One additional alternate version not originally included with that set has been added. Unless the legend is true and Johnson really did sell his soul to the devil, this likely is every bit of music he recorded during his lifetime. This 42-trackset will be available in stores everywhere and will likely replace the 41-track version currently available.
This updated set includes new illustrations and photographs, new liner notes by noted author and historian Ted Gioia, and has been sequenced differently to reflect the chronology of the five Johnson recording sessions in San Antonio and Dallas.
The masters in these sets are the same as those currently available, despite recent suggestions Johnson's masters may have been transferred at the incorrect speed. Gioia says while this is possible, more research is needed.
"I've listened to the modified versions which adapt for alleged recording speed issues," he said. "I find these adjusted tracks interesting, but I think we need much more evidence before we accept these alternatives."
The 2-CD Centennial Edition set will be included in a much larger, more lavish box set that includes 12 78rpm vinyl-discs (now at 45 rpm) that replicate the sides released during Johnson's lifetime. Also included is the acclaimed Johnson documentary The Life & Music Of Robert Johnson: Can't You Hear The Wind Howl? on DVD and a 2-CD package of blues recordings by Johnson contemporaries. Those four components – the two 2-CD sets, the vinyl, and the DVD – will ship together as a bundle and are exclusively available online on April 26. The packaging for this supreme, deluxe edition is lavish and beautiful and it should be because the box is going to set you back $350.
I was pretty gung ho about the box set until I saw the price tag. I'm still gung ho about it but I just don't see $350 in my budget. I'll "upgrade" my current Complete for this new, even more Complete set and mourn my poverty while listening to some of the most vital, influential music in human history.