John Lee Hooker

Anthology: 50 Years

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Shout! Factory's 2009 set Anthology: 50 Years is not the first double-disc Hooker retrospect, nor is it likely to be the last. It differs from the previous front runner for best two-disc Hooker set, Rhino's 1991 The Ultimate Collection (1948-1990), by covering the last decade or so of his career, winding up being just one song longer than The Ultimate, weighing in at 32 tracks. Anthology has an even-handed approach, touching on almost every phase of his career -- on the '70s, represented only bay a duet with Canned Heat, which is no great loss -- with the first disc running from 1948 to 1962, hitting "Boogie Chillen," "Crawlin' King Snake," and "Boom Boom" along the way, with the second beginning with 1965's "Big Legs Tight Skirt" and ending with 1997's "Don't Look Back," a duet with Van Morrison. As with many latter day Hooker compilations, there may be too many superstar duets for some tastes, but he did spend his last decade recording too many of them, so it's accurate in a sense and they don't wind up setting this collection off balance. For if this collection is anything, it is balanced, taking enough of each period to paint a full picture of Hooker's career -- which may not be the same thing as offering up all his best, but it's useful in its own way.

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