John Lee Hooker - Don't Look Back
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Jonny Lang - Lie To Me
(A & M Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Story by Tony BonyataWith a difference of 63 years in age, blues musicians John Lee Hooker (who will turn 80 next month) and newcomer Jonny Lang (just barely 16) have both just released two engaging, powerhouse blues albums. Each artist exhibits an immense amount of soulful prowess as well as timeless sounding blues, even though Lang has only been playing for 3 years. Hooker, on the other hand, has been recording for the last 50.
On John Lee Hooker's latest release Don't Look Back, longtime fans Van Morrison and the band Los Lobos, as well as old pal, bluesman Charles Brown help out.
The album opens with a smoking, reworking of his classic hit "Dimples", in which Los Lobos turn up the heat and transforms this uptempo song into a scorching, feet-shuffling number. The rest of the album was produced by Celtic rock legend, Van Morrison, who also penned the beautifully soulful song "The Healing Game", in which he shares lead vocals with Hooker. "Spellbound" showcases Hooker's deep, heart-felt voice over a driving, boogie-chillin' rhythm. He also gives a brilliantly, slowed-down, emotional retake on Jimi Hendrix' masterpiece "Red House", a song that he promised Hendrix' father and sister he would record. And Charles Brown adds an inspired piano solo to the straight-forward, rocking blues number "I Love You, Honey".
On Jonny Lang's debut release, Lie To Me, it's hard to fathom that music this deep and rich could be performed by a young teenage boy from Minneapolis.
Lang, who is one of the most exciting blues artists to emerge on the scene since the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, proves that you don't have to be 80 and black to sing and play the blues with passion and intensity.
The title track, "Lie To Me", as well Lang's latest single, "Hit The Ground Running", both are solid examples of the sound that made Chicago famous. On the rambling and sexy "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" he belts out in a scratchy, sneering voice, "Tell your mama and daddy I'm a little schoolboy too". Of all the rock and blues greats that have covered this song, Lang (because of his age) is the only one who isn't in jeopardy of serving time for what he's singing about.
Lang's raw, raspy voice isn't the only thing that gives this album it's edge. His guitar stings and burns on the swinging cover of Ike Turner's "Matchbox", and shrillfully wails and pouts on the damn-straight-I-got-the-blues number "A Quitter Never Wins".
Although, undeniably a blues album, Lie To Me has a good range of musical influences, such as the jazz-flavored "Rack 'Em Up", the funky "There's Gotta Be A Change" (written by the late Albert Collins' wife, Gwendolyn), and a 70's R & B groove running through soul-man Syl Johnson's "Back For A Taste Of Your Love".
What Lang may lack in experience, he makes up for in raw, undiluted talent. (Although his resume is quickly filling up with the likes of Buddy Guy, Lonnie Brooks, Luther Allison Jimmy Thackery and Syl Johnson asking for him to join them onstage.)
On both John Lee Hooker and Jonny Lang's new albums, the blues know no color or age, only true passion and soul.
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