They All Played for Us

Arhoolie Records’ 50-year legacy of Cajun, zydeco, and traditional American blues and gospel music is showcased in this handsome, 24-act, four-CD, 70-song box set accompanied by a 190-page book. It is a landmark compilation worthy of any music scholar’s scrutiny and enjoyment. The package includes spirited, wonderfully recorded live pieces by Ry Cooder, Michael and David Doucet, Santiago Jiminez Jr., Taj Mahal, Laurie Lewis, and many more. The box set was recorded during a three-day stretch of performances at Berkeley’s intimate Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse. The shows were part of a commemoration of the record label’s 50th anniversary as well as a benefit for the Arhoolie Foundation, which formed in the mid-’90s “to document, preserve, present and disseminate authentic traditional and regional vernacular music.” Some of the biggest delights here come from folks under-celebrated by the mainstream, like The Campbell Brothers and their double pedal-steel-guitar attack; Jimenez Jr. and his button-accordion-led conjunto dance music; and the Goodtime Washboard 3, a Bay Area washboard/jug band that reunited for the first time in 40 years for the show. Even audiophiles will delight in a live sound that fuses a juke-joint, cantina, and down-home-jam vibe with superbly engineered audio. And it’s all supplemented by an authoritatively written booklet and Mike Melnyk’s high-quality full-page photographs.