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Robert Lockwood Jr. 

What's the Score? (Lockwood Records)

At 85, Robert Lockwood Jr. has nothing left to prove. Appropriately lionized locally as one of the last, best exponents of Delta Blues, he is known for authenticity and guitar mastery. For proof, check out The Complete Trix Recordings, a wonderfully understated, two-CD collection. Taciturn and chronically underrated, Lockwood is said to have learned the blues from Robert Johnson, the Delta Blues icon who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil in the '30s -- and paid the piper when a jealous girlfriend poisoned him at a juke joint. How well he learned is affirmed on What's the Score? It's pretty generic stuff, mostly uptempo and upbeat. It's also pretty good -- particularly the Jimmy Reed ringer "Blues in the Evening," the Archie Bell & the Drells-like "Funky Mama," and the title track. Lockwood sings laconically but plays sharply on this CD, which assembles tracks recorded in 1990 and 1998. How clean and jazzy he plays may come as a surprise to those expecting more traditional, less buoyant music.

What's the Score? is very much a homemade record: The splices aren't slick, and the liner notes are curmudgeonly, complaining that Lockwood's been taken advantage of by people who wrongfully claim credit for his tunes and publish photos of him without permission. Ain't no need for Lockwood to bitch at this late date; he's done OK these past few years, with records on Verve and 32 Blues. Justly celebrated for his seminal solo work on Bluebird and his sideman prowess behind Little Walter, Bo Diddley, and Sunnyland Slim, Lockwood should let his guard down and enjoy his stature. His listeners sure do.

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