John Lee Hooker

Boogie Chillen [Indigo]

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This 20-track compilation is taken solely from 1948-49 sessions, an era that has been drawn from repeatedly for Hooker anthologies. If anyone ever assembles a comprehensive Hooker discography that delineates not only his original releases, but where and when these have been reissued, he or she deserves a government grant or something, because it's not so easy to determine where or if some of these have not appeared on reissues or CD elsewhere. It does, however, yield a sizable scoop of material from Hooker's most primeval phase, the first half devoted to recordings he issued under his own name, including the well-known "Boogie Chillen" and "Crawlin' King Snake." It's the final ten tracks that might be more of a draw for collectors, since it features songs he cut under the pseudonyms Delta John, Birmingham Sam, and Texas Slim. All of those songs are recognizably early Hooker, with their irregular meters, foot-stompin' beats, and intense bursts of citified Delta blues notes. Whether because these were cut under assumed names or due to other reasons, occasionally it seems like these were opportunities to ramble afield into rather far-out territory for urban blues of the era. "Goin' Mad Blues," originally credited to Birmingham Sam, has a compelling almost rock boogie rhythm and violently strident guitar riffs, while Texas Slim vented a darker side of the Hooker persona, as indicated in titles like "Nightmare Blues," "Devil's Jump," and "I'm Gonna Kill That Woman." By all means, there are more coherent overviews of John Lee Hooker's early recordings, but this has its rewards for those who want to dig deeply into the period.

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