May 19, 2024

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CD review: John Lee Hooker – The Healer 2023: Video, CD cover

Originally released in 1989 on Chameleon Records, The Healer quickly became the highest charting album of John Lee Hooker’s storied career.

Out of print for more than ten years, Craft Recordings has reissued the album as originally formatted. After years of lurking out of the limelight, the blues legend was matched up with a number of high-profile guests, all of whom worshiped Hooker and his influence on their music.

One highlight of the album is that Hooker never gets pushed to the background, or overshadowed by his musical compatriots. Credit for keeping the spotlight on him goes to Roy Rogers, who produced the album along with adding his guitar to several tracks, a role he handled as a decade-long member of Hooker’s band at the time.

The title cut gets the party started, surrounding Hooker with a deep Latin-tinged rhythm punctuated by Carlos Santana’s guitar licks. While Hooker conveys the healing power of the music with his vocal, the track glides along thanks to the stellar accompaniment of members of the Santana Band – Chepito Areas on timbales, Armando Peraza on congas, and Ndugu Chancler on drums. The unsung hero is Chester Thompson on keyboards and synthesizers, creating an ethereal mood with flute-like tones that are a sharp contrast to Santana’s stinging attack.

Next, Hooker dusts off one of his classic songs, “I’m In The Mood,” joined by Bonnie Raitt. Their lusty duet goes way down in the alley, and Raitt’s slide playing reminds you of how good she has always been on guitar. It is a stunning track that took home the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Recording, the first Grammy in Hooker’s career.

“Baby Lee” has Hooker trading licks with Robert Cray over a rumba groove laid down by Richard Cousins on bass and Scott Matthews on drums. He sounds right at home on “Think Twice Before Your Go,” backed by the members of Los Lobos. Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo tear it up on guitar, with Hidalgo adding a touch of sweetness on his accordion. Another fine moment finds George Thorogood and Hooker alone with their guitars on “Sally Mae,” with Hooker singing about love troubles while they conjure up the primal sounds of Hooker’s earliest records.

In 1971, the bluesman released the double album Hooker ‘n Heat, recorded with Canned Heat, who had scored several hit records with blues songs. The remaining living members of the band – Henry Vestine on guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, and Fito de la Parra on drums – back Hooker along with Rogers on an uptempo romp through “Cuttin’ Out,” with the singer heading out on a train ride towards a better life. Hooker’s exhortations are nicely framed by fills from Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica. Rogers and Musselwhite return on “That’s Alright,” another dark, moody track that epitomizes the Hooker sound. Musselwhite blows streams of mournful tones over the intimate dialog between the guitars of Rogers and his boss.

The final three tracks remind listeners of the essence of Hooker’s legacy. “Rockin’ Chair” finds him alone with his guitar, promising that he will be a fool no more as he tries to rock his blues away. His richly textured performance mixes gritty tension with beautifully crafted imagery. Taylor and de la Parra back the master om “My Dream,” a touching, country-tinged lament over a lost love.

The closing number, “No Substitute,” finds Hooker playing a 12 string guitar, giving the music a brighter sound. As he plays and taps his foot, he tellingly sings about past sins that have lead to realization that love is all that matters. It is a fitting ending for an album that thankfully brought Hooker a new, well-deserved measure of world-wide attention while confirming that his ability to create powerful music had not diminished with time. Undoubtedly one of the first albums to lean on the “guest appearance” concept to increase the album’s marketability, The Healer has staying power as a true highlight of Hooker’s long career. Make sure you grab a copy if it is not already part of your blues collection!

The Healer - Il blues che guarisce di John Lee Hooker e Carlos Santana -  BLOM! - Blog of music

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