Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

We’re continuing our observance of June 2007 as Black Music Month with some recently reissued blues discs from Bobby “Blue” Bland, John Lee Hooker and a collection of previously unearthed live Muddy Waters.

Bobby "Blue" Bland -- The Definitive Collection (Geffen/UMe)

It has been exactly 50 years since Bobby “Blue” Bland created a stir with his debut chart-topper “Farther Up The Road”. Since then he’s been regarded as one of America’s premier R&B shouters with an impressive list of hits in his sizable songbook. This 22-cut compilation offers up a healthy sampling from the artist’s first two decades (’57 - ’77).

Among the most familiar of his early classics are “Little Boy Blue,” “I’ll Take Care Of You,” “Lead Me On,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “ Don’t Cry No More,” and “Who Will The Next Fool Be?” And no retrospective would be complete without the signature songs “I Pity The Fool,” “Stormy Monday Blues,” “Turn On Your Lovelight” and “That’s The Way Love Is.” 

Definitive Collection concludes with the Top Ten entries “Poverty,” Chains Of Love” and “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” and Bland is joined by none other than B.B. King on a seismic live overhaul of King’s “Let The Good Times Roll”.

John Lee Hooker -- Boom Boom (Shout! Factory)
John Lee Hooker -- Chill Out (Shout! Factory)

After several years MIA, these early ‘90s John Lee Hooker titles are once again in print. Each has been overhauled and augmented with a pair of additional songs.

Boom Boom (1992) garnered the blues veteran universally favorable reviews from enthusiasts and critics alike. This was no doubt aided by The Hook’s choice to include reworked versions of his own vintage sides, reaching all the way back to “Sugar Mama” from 1952 and the ‘60s selections “Bottle Up and Go,” “I’m Bad Like Jessie James” and of course the timeless title track “Boom Boom”. The personnel Hooker handpicked for the project centered around contributions from fellow blues string men Jimmie Vaughn, Robert Cray, Albert Collins, John Hammond, as well as harp blower Charlie Musslewhite (harmonica), who duets on “Thought I Heard”.  Boom Boom’s supplementary sides boast a strong remake of Hooker’s “Dimples” and an outtake titled “Ain’t No Love In This House”.

A second star-studded cast undoubtedly helped Hooker score his well-deserved Grammy Award for Chill Out (1995) three years later. The luminaries present and accounted for range from Carlos Santana (guitar) -- who guests on the opening title tune “Chill Out (Things Gonna Change) -- to Van Morrison (guitar/vocals), who joins in on the medley of “Serves Me Right To Suffer” and “Syndicator”. Keen-eared listeners might also recognize Booker T. Jones (organ), whose unmistakably cool style enhances the latter. Another keyboardist of note is the preeminent R&B pianist Charles Brown, who tears up the ivories on “Annie Mae”. The bonuses on Chill Out are the previously unreleased Hooker originals “Down So Low” and “Fire Down Below”.

Look for Shout! Factory’s re-evaluation of John Lee Hooker’s late ‘80s and ‘90s catalogue to continue throughout the rest of this year with the albums Jealous (1996), Don’t Look Back (1997) and The Best Of Friends (1998) all to be issued in the near future.

Muddy Water, Johnny Winter & James Cotton -- Breakin; It Up, Breakin' It Down (Epic/Legacy)

This compilation features nearly an hour of never-before heard live highlights from the late ‘70s comeback of Muddy Waters. He is supported by blues string-benders Johnny Winter and reunited with James Cotton -- who served an apprenticeship under Waters from 1955 -- 1965. Plus, along for the ride is fellow Chicago veteran Pinetop Perkins on piano, who had been in Waters’ backup band since the late ‘60s when he had taken over for the legendary Otis Spann.

Although Muddy is definitely the star of the show, ample time is also given to Winter and Cotton as co-headliners. Nowhere is that more evident than the opener, which links together Winter’s “Black Cat Bone” and the Elmore James R&B archetype “Dust My Broom” -- with all three sharing the spotlight. The same holds true as the trio respectively step up on the upbeat shouter “Caledonia” and the “Got My Mojo Workin’” finale. Other not to be missed performances are Water’s “Can’t Be Satisfied,” Winter’s “Mama Talk To Your Daughter,” Cotton’s “Rocket 88” and the Winter/Cotton collaboration on a particularly pungent “Dealin’ With The Devil”.

An interesting sidebar to these 30-year old recordings is that they were nearly trashed, literally.  Back in the late ‘90s, the tapes were all but abandoned at a long-forgotten storage facility. They were almost certainly destined for the dustbin, however were properly identified and ultimately rescued before being lost to the ages.

Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and is the weekday on-air producer at WDYT 1220 AM in Charlotte, NC. He's also a contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
All comments and questions are encouraged and can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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