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Hooker's Filthy DNA

21 August 2008

John Lee Hooker Jr says his latest album "All Odds Against Me" describes him in the true sense of the word. So junkies, pimps and relationship failures are in the leading roles.

What do they have in common: a) Batman b) Superman c) Bluesman? That's right. They are all superheroes, and they star in animated movies.

"Bluesman" has just recently seen the daylight, thanks to the skilful pen of Frenchman
Laurent Mercier. Bluesman cleans the street of social filth in the daytime and transforms into a star of the blues clubs by night.
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The soundtrack for the first Bluesman animation two more are on the way this year is provided by "Blues Ain't Nothing But a Pimp", which is one of the twelve songs on John Lee Hooker Jr's new album "All Odds Against Me".

The album is fantastic.

Junior may not be as famous a bluesman as his dad
John Lee Hooker was yet but here he delivers the goods; goods that are rich in musical style and staggering in lyrics. The album has been released in Europe by a German label, Jazzhaus Records. The label has done well in second-generation blues: last year they put out "Chills & Thrills" by Bernard Allison, the son of the legendary Luther.

Life has not always been too good for John Lee Hooker Jr. Born during his dad's Detroit era in 1952, he has been described as a spoiled brat by the ones who know him closely. He has always tested his limits, bigtime. He ended up in a juvenile hall already in his early teens. Alcohol and drugs with all the 'by-products' soon followed quite logically, one could say.

The theme of the album is to discuss a difficult past, one's own identity, and the possibility of a change towards the better. Winos, junkies and failing relationships are ever-present. "This is my style. It has my DNA", Junior writes in the liner notes.

"Dear John", the opener, drops the bomb at once. Junior talk-sings (well, talks) a story about him being caught by the cops. An intensive Chicago-style blues rages in the back. Ex-wife's not-too-flattering letter, which is received by a jailed John, has the leading role in the lyrics. The content of the letter is devastating for the recipient, but that does not keep the narrator from sharing it with the listener. The ex-wife has her say on the money, personality and, err, male fitness of the no-good man. The line "I only married you, because at the time I was doing real bad" is one of the most sympathetic parts of the letter. An amazingly ironic story that should not be missed!

A funky "There's a Struggle" is the other key tune. Junior is in pain with the fact that despite the effort to be good he always ends up doing all the wrong things. The line "I'm too proud to beg, too afraid to steal" culminates the storm of controversy within.

In addition to modern electric blues and the funky stuff, the musical colourfulness is taken care of by an acoustic "Old School" and a New Orleans spirited "Pay Day". Jazz pieces like "I Miss You So" could be straight from a Broadway musical! All songs are written by Junior and his inner circle. The animation with "Blues Ain't Nothing But a Pimp" (starring the Bluesman, who resembles Hooker Junior to a 'suspicious' extent) is on the cd as a bonus feature.

The singing voice of John Lee Hooker Jr is deep, but it surely has its limits. Who does he think he is fooling when he tries to growl just like
Bobby "Blue" Bland? However, in line with the theme though, the album concentrates on the soloist. Harpist David Barrett and bassist Frank Thibeaux are fortunately given chances on centerstage. The horn section sounds fine, too.

Junior has dedicated the album to his father. It is still not at all about riding on the fame of his legendary dad "All Odds Against Me" sounds just like John Lee Hooker Jr and nobody else.

PASI TUOMINEN


John Lee Hooker, Jr: All Odds Against Me. Jazzhaus Records, 2008

John Lee Hooker Jr (vocals)

George Lacson (bass), Cynthia Handy (backup vocals), David Barrett (harmonica), Jeffery James Horan (guitar), John Garcia Jr (guitar), Jeff Teczon (saxophone), Frankie Bailey (trumpet), Magda Tondera (backup vocals), Mike Rogers (drums), Mike Rinta (trombone), Pam Hawkins (backup vocals), Frank Thibeaux (bass), Tyrone Kilson (backup vocals), Will Griffin (keyboards)

Producers: John Lee Hooker Jr, Will Griffin


Links:
John Lee Hooker jr, Jazzhaus Records