The U.S. Congress has declared 2003 “the year of the blues,” and Sony Legacy and Universal Music Enterprises (UME) are rolling out a flood of releases tied to the fall PBS series “Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues — A Musical Journey.” The series, executive produced by Scorsese, will include seven different original films, each with a unique angle on the blues.
The alliance between Sony and Universal marks the second time the companies have joined together for a PBS-related project. Two years ago, their mammoth effort for “Ken Burns Jazz” ignited new interest — and sales — in the genre. Executives hope the upcoming releases do the same for the blues, which has made up a very small percentage of overall sales in recent years.
Promotion of “Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues,” which airs Sept. 28-Oct. 4, begins Aug. 26 with the release of “The Best of the Blues,” a TV-advertised collection from UME’s UTV Records. The 21-track set will include both archival selections and songs recorded specifically for the series by (tentatively) Robert Cray & Shemekia Copeland, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison & Jeff Beck and Cassandra Wilson.
A five-CD boxed set will be issued Sept. 9 by Hip-O/UME. Offering a comprehensive overview of blues history, the cross-licensed box tentatively will feature exclusive tracks from the series by Raitt, Wilson, Los Lobos, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Keb’ Mo & Corey Harris.
Also due on Sept. 9 are individual soundtrack CDs (most featuring newly recorded music) for the seven highly impressionistic films by noted international directors, as well as 12 artist compilations.
The Columbia/Legacy soundtracks include “The Soul of a Man,” from director Wim Wenders’ film, with a bounty of new recordings by Beck, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, Nick Cave, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, T-Bone Burnett, Alvin Youngblood Hart and others; “Feel Like Going Home,” drawn from Scorsese’s film; “Piano Blues,” from Clint Eastwood’s episode; and “Warming by the Devil’s Fire,” from Charles Burnett’s installment.
Hip-O/UME’s soundtracks will be “The Road to Memphis,” accompanying Richard Pearce’s episode, with new tracks by Bobby Rush, Gatemouth Moore, Robert Belfour and Hubert Sumlin & David Johansen; “Godfathers & Sons,” from Marc Levin’s entry, with new recordings by Otis Rush, Lonnie Brooks, Magic Slim, Common, Public Enemy and Chuck D & the Electric MudKats; and “Red, White and Blues,” from Mike Figgis’ film, with new numbers by Morrison, Tom Jones & Jeff Beck and Lulu.
The artist packages comprise previously released material. Chronicles/UME’s titles feature the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, J.B. Lenoir and Muddy Waters. Columbia/Legacy’s packages spotlight Robert Johnson, Taj Mahal, Bessie Smith, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Son House and Keb’ Mo’.
A seven-DVD set of the series will be issued by Sony on Sept. 30. Individual DVDs of each show will be released sometime in 2004, although it hasn’t been determined if “The Blues” will be released on VHS.