Thursday, October 22, 2015

John Lee Hooker - Urban Blues (ABC Bluesway, 1967)


The great blues guitarist and songwriter John Lee Hooker recorded for many labels during his lengthy career, but in the late 1960’s he was able to sign a major label deal with the newly founded ABC – Bluesway group. This album is made up of songs with a full band (as opposed to Hooker’s early groundbreaking solo recordings) over the course of a few different sessions. The musical accompaniment is subtle with some very nice bass and harmonica adding to Hooker’s guitar and very deep voice. The album features some of his great boogie tunes “Boom Boom” and “Think Twice Before You Go” which are pithy and buoyant, nothing like the all night boogie albums that would be conjured up by Hooker’s record label a few years later. The snarling “Backbiters and Syndicators” and the witty “Mr. Lucky” are wonderful tunes that Hooker and his producer Al Smith co-wrote and would stay in his repertoire late into his career. Another very interesting development are two great topical protest songs, “The Motor City is Burning” about the riots that erupted in Detroit in 1967 that lead to the deployment of National Guard troops and the deaths of 43 people. “I Gotta Go to Vietnam” is a powerful indictment of a war of folly from the position of a black draftee that knows that the real war is being fought at home for civil rights and against racial inequality. When people think of protest songs they often think of white folksingers but these songs and others by his then colleague J.B. Lenior showed that blues musicians were very clued into what was happening. Just as before, John Lee Hooker’s career would wax and wane until the late 1980’s when he achieved the position of a revered elder for many rock and blues musicians. Several lion in winter albums followed where he was flanked by his admirers (one album was called Mr. Lucky in fact) and he was one of the few musicians with the longevity to see first hand the influence he had over generations of musicians. Urban Blues - John Lee Hooker

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