“Laughing to keep from crying.” My intellectual career’s basically an extended set of riffs on Ralph Ellison’s definition of the blues as “an impulse to finger the jagged grain of a brutal experience and to transcend it, not through the consolation of philosophy, but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.” First time I read it, my first thought was Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Dylan already knew that that would lead me back to the music on this list. Tons of good writing about the blues, but the gold standard remains Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues.