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John Lee Hooker Jr. – Blues With A Vengeance (Bogalusa/Kent)
Reviewed by Ricardo, Nov 2005

Charlotte Wyatt

So what are you going to do if John Lee Hooker is your dad and you want to make a blues record? Well you could cynically exploit the name, get some top producers and session guys in, churn out pale imitation and talk about ‘tribute’. Or you could do your own thing, on your own terms, and make a decent, real record. Fortunately Jr. chose to do the latter.

Of course it probably does no harm having such a famous name, and whilst lots of people talk about being ‘steeped in the blues’ in John Jrs. case the term really does apply. It’s to his credit though that this is an album of his own blues. Apart from three nods to his dad – ‘Dimples’, ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’, each one completely re-worked and re-interpreted – and a reasonable large band stab at ‘Stormy Monday’, all the songs on this album are John Jrs. own, and all of them honest and original.

Stylistically it’s in the Johnny Guitar Watson, BB / Albert King R&B, jazzy, funky mould rather than his fathers down home approach and the overall sound has been kept raw rather than slick – it almost sounds like a live album, capturing the small club, live, old school soulful blues vibe admirably.

Johns voice and delivery are powerful and charismatic, and he’s assembled a top quality group of tight, dynamic musicians, including a large amount of brass and plenty of back up vocals. Special shouts go out to John Garcia for some outstanding guitar.

The themes are working class American – we’ve got the addiction confessionals, the laydeez man bravado, the contemporary references and the social commentary. There’s even the ‘interesting’ political observation of ‘Going Down To Bagdad’, linking the everyday blues of the common man to the wider world, with it’s echoes of that other ‘Son of The Blues’ Billy Branch’s ‘Berlin Wall’.

In short, a proper contemporary blues record which doesn’t attempt to re-create some mythical golden era but tackles the real world right now in the up front, head-on manner that real blues has always been about. That it’s from a man who had more to gain than most by trading on the past makes it all the more worthwhile.