Thursday, October 02, 2008

John Lee Hooker - The Ultimate Collection (Rhino, 1991)

Legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker left a massive catalog of recordings during his long and productive career. So many recordings under so many pseudonyms that it is difficult for a new listener to know where to start. Thankfully Rhino cut through the clutter with a two-disc set that covers nearly the entirety for Hooker's career, and hits most of the high points. Disc one begins with his rawest and most potent recordings, performing solo, percussively strumming an over-amped guitar and keeping time with blasting foot stomps, Hooker's earliest and most influential hits like "Boogie Chillen" and "Crawling King Snake" are like a blast of raw energy straight to the ears. As his music developed, he moved into a full band sound with key collaborators like the guitarist Eddie Kirkland and a variety of different musical settings from the deeply soulful "I'm In the Mood" to the female background singers on "Frisco Blues." Disc Two tackles the latter half of his epic run, including songs the endeared him to the growing legion of rock 'n' rollers like the blasting "Boom Boom" and "Big Legs, Tight Skirt." The final years of Hooker's career were mostly spent on collaborative projects, represented here with a wonderful remake of "I'm In the Mood" featuring Bonnie Raitt. There is a well written and extensive booklet included in this collection which provides a basic overview of his career and some excellent photographs. This is an excellent starting place for a curious blues fan to begin an investigation of one of the twentieth centuries finest blues musicians.

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