John Lee Hooker – The Healer – Craft Recordings

by | Jan 14, 2023 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

John Lee Hooker’s Grammy-winning 1989 album gets an excellent vinyl upgrade.

John Lee Hooker – The Healer – Chameleon Records (1989)/Craft Recordings CR00407 (2022) 180-gram stern vinyl, 41:43 ****1/2:

(John Lee Hooker – guitar, National steel guitar, 12-string guitar, vocals; with special guests Carlos Santana & The Santana Band; Bonnie Raitt; Robert Cray; Canned Heat; Los Lobos; George Thorogood; Charlie Musselwhite; Roy Rogers – guitar, slide guitar; Larry Taylor – bass)

If there is a pantheon of the greatest blues artists, John Lee Hooker would be there. His unique style of electrified Mississippi Delta blues produced classic songs like “Boogie Chillen’”, “Crawling King Snake”, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and “Boom Boom”. Amazingly, Hooker kept recording for 7 decades. This latter part of his career produced five Grammys. Hooker is regarded by the blues and rock communities as a legend, and has been inducted into the Blues and Rock And Roll Halls Of Fame. His distinctive rhythmic guitar technique and innovative tempo approach helped define his legacy.

Album Cover for John Lee Hooker - The Healer - VinylCraft Recordings has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of the 1989 release The Healer. This album paired Hooker with prominent rock musicians like Carlos Santana, Canned Heat, Los Lobos, Bonnie Raitt Robert Cray and George Thorogood, among others. It resulted in his first Grammy award when he was 73. This album is represented by various musicians becoming part of the John Lee Hooker musical experience. Side A kicks off with the title track, featuring Carlos Santana & The Santana Band. As the veteran rocker lays down one of his trademark jagged grooves, a Latin vibe is set. Hooker’s vocals are earthy and take on a testimonial attitude. A mellower tapestry (with synthesizers) of sound is a nice conduit to the vocals. Bonnie Raitt joins in on ‘’I’m In The Mood” in a collaboration that garnered Hooker’s long overdue Grammy. Her distinctive slide guitar and bona fide blues singing capture the connective roots from traditional blues to rock and roll. Robert Cray adds a second guitar to the classic, “Baby Lee”. A steady pulsating groove is simple and the two players trading licks is magnetic. Hooker’s weathered voice is a treasure. One of John Lee Hooker’s earliest rock collaborations was with Canned Heat. On”Cuttin’ Out”, the up tempo jam features the band with assists to producer Roy Rogers (slide guitar) and Charlie Musselwhite (harmonica). What John Lee manages to do on every song is bring authenticity to the performance. This one rocks out with train imagery and overall urgency. In another roof shaker, Los Lobos sustain raw energy in “Think Before You Go”. A saxophone (Steve Berlin) adds some muscle to the arrangement. The hard-rocking roots magnetism of Los lobos is undeniable.

George Thorogood joins Hooker on “Sally Mae”. This is stripped down, nasty music with dual guitars and voice. The blues legend’s inimitable singing style and cadence is stellar and his ability to viscerally interact with his fellow blues man is palpable. With slow-burning intensity, “That’s Alright” distills Delta blues with feeling. Roy Rogers is back on guitar and Charlie Musselwhite’s scintillating harmonica riffs are showcased here. Hooker’s plaintive delivery is timeless. The remaining three cuts focus nearly entirely on the master. One of the highlights of this project is “Rockin’ Chair”. It features John Lee in blues persona accompanying himself on a National steel guitar. His picking is nimble and that baritone voice is mesmerizing. The hushed swaying version of “My Dream” is laid-back, but equally impactful. Hooker’s vocal expertise in lower register is compelling and a concise guitar solo is a nice touch. The finale, “No Substitute” is a resounding closer. With just a 12-strung guitar and talking blues, a blues icon exudes heartfelt soulful resonance.

The Healer is a rare example of a blues album that sounds traditional and modern. Craft Recordings has done its customary excellent job in re-mastering The Healer to 180-gram vinyl. The re-mastered sound mix is precise with excellent stereo separation. The pressing (ORP/Bernie Grudman) is superior with very little surface noise, and no hisses or pops.         

TrackList:
Side A: The Healer; I’m In The Mood; Baby Lee; Cuttin’ Out; Think Before You Go
Side B: Sally Mae; That’s Alright; Rockin’ Chair; My Dream; No Substitute.  

—Robbie Gerson

More information available through Craft Recordings and Acoustic Sounds

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