Album Review

John Lee Hooker - Burnin'

John Lee Hooker Burnin

Burnin'

Vee-Jay

Release Date: March 24th, 1962

Words by: Roland Ellis
March 5th, 1962

9.3

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The blues is such an interesting genre. Traditional, often derived, often brilliant in it's simplicity, and often credited as being the basis upon which all rock n' roll has been built. One thing is for certain about the blues – it's simple. And when something is simple there will always be millions of imitators and very few genuine articles. Well John Lee Hooker is not only one of the few genuinely brilliant bluesmen, he's arguably the greatest and most influential of the whole lot, and his album 'Burnin' stands as testament to this argument.

You open an album with a track like 'Boom Boom' and it's over isn't it? You're sold on the quality of the man by the time he crushes you with 'that' voice in the first line of the first verse. You're then trapped under the gravelly vocal and the wonderfully stilted and simple instrumentation for about a minute before John Lee opens up the shuffle pattern with a Ray Charlesesque vocal swoop/call to arms for the band. By the time 'Boom Boom' comes to a close you're left wondering if music gets anymore tasteful than what you've just heard, and whether anyone else before him has knocked you flat with their voice like John Lee just has.

It has to be so hard to maintain the standard of a track like 'Boom Boom' throughout an entire album. It's easy to step into the typical label formula of stacking the singles at the top of the order and then dropping everyone slowly and steadily into mediorce moments down a track list. However, this ain't one of those albums. From the opener onwards John Lee sounds nothing less than inspired and completely involved with what rests at the heart of these tunes, and as such, the listener feels a similar connection to the material from start to finish. It must be said that this not an easily accomplished feat when looking at traditional blues music which is limited in terms of structure and progression, however with 'Burnin' John Lee Hooker undoubtedly achieves this level of continuity.

There's such an amazing atmosphere to tracks like 'A New Leaf' and 'I Got A Letter' as set up by the simplicity and relaxed feel of the instrumentation and then drilled home by Hooker's greatest asset – his voice. There's genuine feeling behind the man's words in the same way there is with Howlin' Wolf. In this writer's opinion that is the one crucial element that sets the truly great bluesmen apart from those who think that in order to help them understand the blues they need to go on down to Clarksdale Mississippi and take a photograph of the exact place that Robert Johnson met with and sold his soul to the devil. There are certain things that most will never understand, and there are certain parts of the ether that most will never be able to tap into. However, John Lee Hooker ain't most people and that untouchable sound behind his voice on this record helps assure us of this.

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