02 December 2004

Hooker In The Mornin'

      Don't Look Back (1997) was the great John Lee Hooker's penultimate album, a moody, groove-defined opus that features the Hook's voice at high smoulder. As he aged (he was 79 when this album was released), Hooker's voice developed an almost spectral dimension to it, and that's used to great effect here, especially in the album's four duets with Van Morrison, including Morrison's "The Healing Game" and Hooker's title track, for which this version won a Grammy in 1998. The former is a drastic revamping, with Morrison and Hooker riffing elegantly about 'when I walked her home,' shifting the song's focus into a specific kind of late-romantic relief. The latter features the two old hands finding a darker poignancy, a lilting but stoic wistfulness that sometimes desires to 'call back those days' but stammers to do so. It's not all elegy here, though. "Spellbound" kicks the mood up a notch or three, the Hook in pure shamanistic form, the old dog still capable of full growl. And in "Dimples" and "I Love You Honey," the songs are punctuated by occasional laughs from the Master, his sense of humour not at all lost, the album less moribund and sedate than my descriptions of the two standout tracks may imply. This is a deeply meditative album, and a remarkably serene one, too, perfect for those quiet moments of air. If you don't know the Hook, you're missing out one of the few titans of modern blues, here as Prosperan as ever. Check out, too, the other seminal late works Chill Out -- also featuring a duet with Morrison on the riveting "Serves Me Right To Suffer"-- and the twin albums that brought him back into popularity, The Healer and Mr. Lucky, after too many years in relative obscurity. Sadly, we'll not look upon his like again.

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