Greatly admired among his peers during his short life, and highly acclaimed by blues aficionados, J.B. Lenoir was a singular blues artist and a prolific songwriter. The Evidence Records release of Vietnam Blues combines J.B. Lenoir's final two albums before his death in 1967, Alabama Blues (1965) and Down In Mississippi (1966). Willie Dixon produced the sessions for L&R Records and lends back-up vocals to a few of the tracks. The acoustic sound (no bass, occasional drums) notes a shift back to the primary elements of pre-war blues. These recordings aren't nostalgic endeavors, however, but ensure that the songs get the best listening environment possible. The enigmatic Lenoir called the style he was developing during these sessions, "African Hunch," and it's apparent that he was bursting with creativity, dedicated equally to both the words and music. Early Lenoir compositions such as "I Feel So Good" and "Mojo Boogie" are resurrected, but Lenoir's new material, with its finger on the pulse of the mid-1960's, are startling rich and haunting at times. Civil rights, racism, lynching, and the Vietnam War, among other relevant issues are encapsulated with an originality and poignancy that's hard to find in other blues during the time. Lenoir's singing comes off as a high-pitched near-squeal, and his multi-dimensional guitar playing shows the influence of Lightning Hopkins' and other southern blues guitarists. Characteristically, Lenoir's guitar playing interweaves pensive eerie open chords with deft muting and rhythmic displays. Drummer Freddie Below, whose shuffling beats really accent the sound of Lenoir's acoustic guitar, enhances the sound on every song he contributes to, such as "Mojo Boogie," "Talk To Your Daughter," and the grooving "I Want To Go." As a storyteller, songwriter, musician, and performer, J.B. Lenoir was a giant and he gave something back to the blues to help it grow and keep going. You'll thank Evidence Records for reissuing these unique and brilliant little masterpieces.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Schwachter