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John Lee Hooker - Whiskey And Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest album review

Album Review

Single-disc celebration of the pioneering bluesman

This year would have been John Lee Hooker’s 100th birthday, an event properly marked by this refreshingly compact collection of his greatest moments that serve as an ideal introduction to the man who fashioned one of rock’n’roll’s basic building blocks.

With his droning, minimal guitar style, a mere click and a pulse on late-1940s recordings like Boogie Chillen, he inaugurated boogie-woogie, a brilliantly serviceable blues vehicle lubricated by sheer carnal appreciation. Hearing afresh tracks like Boom Boom and I’m In The Mood is like watching old Model T Fords rolling out of industrial plants onto freshly tarmacked freeways. This is how it all started out: the Velvet Underground, Zeppelin, Nick Cave, all sprang from what he laid down here.

Although illiterate, Hooker was a great lyricist, as much narrator as singer, telling fireside tales that still crackle vivaciously today. These are spare arrangements, mere instrumental knapsacks – when female backing vocals coo on Frisco Blues, it feels as comparatively luxurious as a Spector production.

There’s repentance for his bad ways on 1964’s It Serves Me Right (To Suffer), from which Hendrix stole a lick or two, but Hooker is above and beyond criticism. His place in the firmament is secure.

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