Various Artists: This Is The Blues (Volumes I, II, III & IV)

Let’s get one thing straight. This is not the blues. This is, for the most part, British Blues Rock: and a damn fine jam of a time with odd pairings of all kinds of great musicians, and for that it’s a stone cold winner.

In the 1960s, every good rock band worth their salt jammed out on the blues. Crazy genius Peter Green, for instance, left John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers to form his own band, Fleetwood Mac, whose first three albums are all blues (then was institutionalized for schizophrenia and his perfectly good blues band was ruined with too much estrogen). The Animals, Jethro Tull, Rolling Stones, Cream, Yardbirds-into-Led Zeppelin, Savoy Brown, The Kinks and almost all other bands of the era played blues.

These four separately-sold CDs, recorded in ’94, ’96 and ’01 in London and New Jersey, are fascinating and totally engaging in approach and conception.

Jeff Beck plays the “Hobo Blues,” ex-Stone Mick Taylor lets loose on Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me,” Jack Bruce teams up with Gary Moore, Chris Jagger teams up with his famous brother and the late Rory Gallagher lives again, as does Foghat’s Dave Peverett and Rod Price. There’s surprise after surprise on track after track. Southside Johnny blows some mean blues harp with The Uptown Horns, Peter Green is positively haunting on John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake.” the Hook’s daughter, Zakiya Hooker, wails, and the master himself is backed by Booker T. Jones on Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House.” Get the picture?

No one volume is appreciably better than any other. Highlights abound throughout and the joy of discovery runs rampant.

Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Renaissance’s Jim McCarty, even such long-ago and far-away bands as The Pretty Things and Nine Below Zero get in on the action. And action it is. Blues Power, baby! All four are keepers.

In A Word: Tantalizing