One night in 1947 NYC, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax "presided" over a summit meeting of three of the time’s premier traditional blues singer/performers: pianist Memphis Slim, guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson (the first one, not the one who recorded for Chess Records). This wasn’t so much an album - actually most albums back then were usually just collections of singles or various individual sessions - as it was a documentary. The three gathered in a studio to perform songs in trio, duo and solo settings, and between the songs they engage in plenty of brutally frank dialogue about life in the American South. So unsparing was the conversation that the recordings went unreleased for over 10 years. It received a CD incarnation on Rykodisc in 1990, and now again this year on Rounder, augmented by a few recordings of field workers and church congregations to add a bit of "audio verite" slices-of-life to complete the picture (and to fill out an otherwise short-for-CD album). For fans of modern blues (oh, let’s say, for the sake of argument, post-1965), this album will be a major culture shock - there is NONE of the slickness that mars much electric blues. These blues vets play with the casual intimacy of a post-barbeque backyard session, rough edges and all. Memphis Slim plays with a dark, rolling style that absorbed a lot of influence of 30s/40s boogie woogie (one of the building blocks of rock & roll), yet had a spare, melodic richness to it; Broonzy is a fascinating figure, as his is the "mellowest" vocal here, and he was one of the pivotal figures in blues as he "bridged" country and urban blues, as well as absorbing influences from folk and pop; Williamson’s rough-hewn vocals and rich harmonica style helped form the basis for modern Chicago blues, influencing Little Walter, Junior Wells and Sonny Boy Williamson "II." Obviously not an album for blues neophytes, especially as nearly half the album is conversation, but for serious scholars of both blues and American History, this platter will be a serious hunk of harrowing education.