Lightnin' Hopkins

His Blues

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Lightnin' Hopkins' discography is so massive that an anthology is bound to miss out on what some might consider to be highlights of his work, or only be able to offer a relatively limited percentage of his significant output. Nonetheless, this two-CD, 44-track set, with recordings spanning 1946 to 1969, must count as one of the very best attempts to assemble a Hopkins best-of of sorts. The only other serious contender is Rhino's 1993 double-CD Mojo Hand, which inevitably has some overlap with this U.K. anthology, though not too much. Whether you have that Rhino comp or not, His Blues -- released in conjunction with Alan Govenar's 2010 Hopkins biography Lightnin' Hopkins, His Life and Blues -- works well as an overview of the most important stretch of his career. Drawing from an expectedly impressive assortment of the many labels for which the bluesman recorded, it does perhaps emphasize his sides with electric guitar over his folkier, acoustic ones, but not to its detriment. And while Hopkins wasn't the most stylistically diverse of major blues musicians, there's more variety than you might think, hitting some especially high points on '50s singles where the charge almost verges on rock & roll or rockabilly at points. There are plenty of raw boogies from the early days, of course, but also some nifty odd lyrical turns, like an early reference to another form of roots music in "Zolo Go (Zydeco)" (which boasts strange organ accompaniment); topical songwriting with "Happy Blues for John Glenn," and bold religious commentary on "I'm Gonna Build Me a Heaven of My Own." It's hard to imagine there are many collectors, even blues fanatics, determined to own everything Hopkins did, but this does include a previously unissued early-'50s number from the Specialty vaults, "Ain't No Monkey Man." Overall, it's a mightily entertaining ride, enhanced by detailed notes from biographer Govenar.

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