Truth be told, some of my EW colleagues were less than impressed with the news that 2003 had been decreed the Year of the Blues by Congress. ''Da blooz? A dead music,'' these cynics sniffed. Me, I decided to keep my ears open. Lo and behold, as 2004 dawns, I find my confidence in the form's continued vitality validated by the release of Kenny Neal & Billy Branch's Double Take. With just acoustic guitar and harmonica, the duo (Neal hails from Baton Rouge, La., and Branch lives in Chicago) delivers a set of country blues that might just renew your faith in the eternal verities. They shine on some classics (Muddy Waters' ''Mannish Boy,'' Sonny Boy Williamson's ''Don't Start Me Talking,'' Willie Dixon's ''My Babe'') and do a helluva job on the more obscure material -- check out the stunningly gorgeous ''The Son I Never Knew (Take 2)'' and the humorous ''Northern Man Blues.'' Bravo, fellas. And don't worry -- I got your back.
SELECTED COPIES OF EW CONTAIN LISTEN2THIS, A MONTHLY SUPPLEMENT WITH EXPANDED COVERAGE OF ALTERNATIVE AND INDIE-MINDED MUSIC. VISIT EW.COM/REGISTER2LISTEN IF YOU'D LIKE TO RECEIVE LISTEN2THIS.