In the midst of the mid-'60s folk-music boom, Chess Records strove to tap into the younger generation's budding enthusiasm for Americana authenticity by presenting its veteran blues artists as folk pi

In the midst of the mid-'60s folk-music boom, Chess Records strove to tap into the younger generation's budding enthusiasm for Americana authenticity by presenting its veteran blues artists as folk pioneers—even if their products for the label had long since taken on an urban electricity and sophistication. A manifestation of this marketing tactic—which, of course, was truthful in the sense that these men embodied an unadulterated oral (i.e., folk) tradition—was the series of Real Folk Blues and More Real Folk Blues compilations devoted to the label's signature giants: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and John Lee Hooker. Now part of MCA/Universal's excellent line of remastered, expanded, and freshly annotated "Blues Classics," the original titles and their sequels have been definitively paired on a series of single CDs. For the 50th anniversary of Chess in 1997, MCA rolled out beautifully remastered single-disc best-of anthologies for each of these artists (with two each for Waters and Wolf). Yet the Real Folk sets manage to diverge usefully from those collections by juxtaposing classic singles with more obscure material. A revelatory case in point is Waters' lost gem "She's Alright," a live-wire track that doesn't appear on any of MCA's many wide-ranging anthologies of his work (including the boxed set). Hooker's disc—which features the artist, atypically, with a full band in tow—includes such uncommonly anthologized items as his polemical answer to Woody Guthrie, "This Land Is Nobody's Land." There are similar finds on each of these 24-track sets, which have only grown more "real" and life-affirming with every passing year.—BB