Thursday, August 05, 2010

Lightnin' Hopkins - His Blues (Ace, 2010)

The great Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins had an amazing life and career, recently chronicled in the new book Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues by Alan Govenar. This well thought out two-disc collection is a soundtrack and tie-in product to that book, tracking songs of Hopkins' career during the prime of his life, 1947-1969. This is an excellent place for those new to or curious about Hopkins to begin their exploration of his music. He had one of the largest discographies among blues musicians and was supposedly willing to record anytime for cash money up front. Listing to this collection we follow Hopkins' music in chronological order, and it is fascinating to see how he would adjust his music to the time and place, yet still remain true to his own unique style. Hopkins early sides for the Aladdin label paired him with pianist "Thunder" Smith and also featured him solo, recording some of his famous early songs like the slow and moody "Katie Mae Blues" and the jumping "Let Me Play With Your Poodle." As the times changes, Hopkins changed with them, developing a unique electric guitar style for some excellent small combo recordings in the mid-1950's for the Herald label, culminating in the blistering instrumental "Hopkins Sky Hop." As the 1960's dawned, Hopkins evolved with time times yet again, setting aside the electric guitar and playing in a solo acoustic format for the coffee houses and festivals of the blues revival. With his quick mind and nimble fingers, Hopkins was the master of spontaneous songwriting - spinning out songs and tales at will. He could compose songs as haunting "Tim Moore's Farm" which describes the terrible conditions black sharecroppers had to endure, to the flighty and fun "Up On Telegraph Avenue" where he talks about checking out hippie women in San Francisco. This was a well done collection and great addition to the book, which does its best to flesh out the Hopkins story. The liner notes present a detailed timeline of Hopkins' life and career as well as some nice photos. Fans of classic blues and those curious about the blues will find a nice place to start with this excellent career spanning package.

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