Craft Recordings announces the launch of Bluesville Records, a new reissue series that celebrates America’s bedrock music genre, as well as the trailblazing musicians that contributed to its rich traditions. Inspired by the original Bluesville imprint (launched by Prestige Records in 1959 to preserve the hallowed genre and capture its most important living figures), the series is intended to appeal to blues enthusiasts of all levels—from casual fans who are eager to learn more to long-time collectors and audiophiles. In addition to releasing foundational blues titles from such legendary labels as Prestige, Vee-Jay, Riverside, Vanguard, Stax and Rounder, Bluesville Records will also seek to elevate the legacies of the artists behind these albums, while honoring their immeasurable impact on modern music through a variety of initiatives, including curated playlists, in-depth editorial content, dedicated social media channels, and much more. For more information, head here.
Each handpicked Bluesville title will be released on vinyl in partnership with audiophile leader Acoustic Sounds. Founder of Acoustic Sounds, Chad Kassem says of the new series, “Craft Recordings owns some very important blues albums. I am honored and excited to work with them to ensure that their new Bluesville reissues will sound as good as possible.” Delivering the highest-quality listening experience, the albums will feature all-analog mastering by GRAMMY®-nominated engineer Matthew Lutthans (The Mastering Lab) and will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl at QRP. Faithfully reproduced tip-on jackets round out every release, while obis will offer insightful reflections on the album by GRAMMY-winning producer, writer and musician, Scott Billington. Billington states, “Bluesville represents over 75 years of blues history, from culture-shifting field recordings to dozens of pivotal blues hits. It is thrilling to be a part of the curation of this incredible legacy.” Additionally, every title in the series will be delivered to digital platforms in stunning remastered hi-res audio.
Bluesville Records launches its first titles on June 7th with essential albums from two of the genre’s most influential artists: John Lee Hooker’s Burning Hell (originally released in 1964) and Skip James’ Today! (1966). The rollout will continue throughout the year, and beyond, with classic titles from Albert King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed and Blind Gary Davis, among others.
John Lee Hooker – Burning Hell
Frequently known as “The King of the Boogie,” GRAMMY Award-winner John Lee Hooker (1917–2001) was one of the most important American artists of all time, whose prolific, seven-decade-long career continues to reverberate today. As a young man, the Mississippi-born singer, songwriter and guitarist relocated to Detroit, where he established himself in the industry—making his debut recordings and scoring his earliest hits (including 1948’s R&B No.1, “Boogie Chillen’”). Over a decade later, back in Motor City, Hooker laid down one of his first full-length LPs, Burning Hell, for Riverside Records.
Recorded in Detroit in April 1959 (during a session that also produced 1960’s The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker), Burning Hell was a stylistic outlier for the artist, who was better known at the time for his electric, R&B-influenced sound. Instead, Riverside sought to highlight Hooker’s Delta roots, capturing him in an intimate setting, where he was accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. The resulting album showcased Hooker’s commanding presence as an artist, as he delivered a soulful blend of original songs (“Graveyard Blues,” “You Live Your Life and I’ll Live Mine” and the title track, among them) as well as a selection of blues standards, including Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’,” and the Charlie Segar/Big Bill Broonzy-penned“Key to the Highway.”
As powerful as the recording was, Burning Hell wasn’t released until 1964—not long after Hooker had become a sensation in the UK, amid the blues revival. Originally only available in Europe, the album quickly became a sought-after rarity, coveted by blues and folk aficionados across the globe. Today, it remains a standout title in Hooker’s prolific catalog of work.
This long-awaited reissue of Burning Hell marks the first worldwide reissue on a single vinyl LP as well as its debut in hi-res audio. Tracklist further below.
Skip James – Today!
Singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist Skip James (1902–1969) was a seminal Delta bluesman, who (like many of his counterparts) didn’t find broader fame until his later years. Born Nehemiah Curtis James in Mississippi, the artist had a reputation that preceded him, fueled by allegations of a wild lifestyle and unpredictable mood swings. Whether or not these rumors were true, they certainly added to the bluesman’s mystique as he launched his career in the 1920s. In 1931, James recorded a series of singles for Paramount Records but, as the Great Depression took hold, he failed to find success. Over the next 30 years, he would remain relatively unknown, working in the church as a minister and choir director.
In the ’60s, amid rumors of James’ death, blues enthusiasts John Fahey, Henry Vestine (Canned Heat) and Bill Barth sought out the artist—finding him to be very much alive—and encouraged him to return to the stage. James made his long-awaited comeback at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, enjoying newfound fame among a younger generation of fans. Over the next five years, he also recorded a series of albums, including 1966’s Today! for Vanguard.
Today! found the bluesman revisiting many of his 1931 singles, including the popular “I’m So Glad,” “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” “Special Rider Blues,” and “Drunken Spree.”
Haunting and emotionally raw, the pared-down session also showcased James’ unique fingerpicking technique on the acoustic guitar, as well as his talents on the piano. While the album was primarily a solo outing, James was joined by bassist Russ Savakus on his sole cover—the Leroy Carr standard “How Long.”
Now, fans can enjoy this enthralling album in its original format—marking its first wide availability on vinyl in over three decades and will be available in hi-res audio for the first time. Tracklist below. Both titles are available for pre-order today. Hi-res digital (192/24) will also be available for purchase at the time of each respective LP release.