JOHN LEE HOOKER All Odds Against Me Jazz Haus JHR 015 (2008)
John Lee Hooker Jr. Has a lot to live up to. For aside from being the
son of the late blues legend, he also has to live up to the PR hype of
having 'Delta filled blood running through his Motown Blues'.
Being born in Detroit of helps of course but on the evidence of the
suitably titled 'All Odds Are Against Me' his true blues style lies
somewhere closer to the cabaret and jazz saloon previously inhabited by
the late Lou Rawls than either the Delta roots of Hooker senior or
Hooker Junior's own Detroit upbringing.
John Jr. also has alter ego as the crime fighting cartoon super hero
character. This cute idea is neatly predicated on the sing along chorus
of 'Blues Ain't Nothing but a Pimp', but like many of the self penned
songs here the subject matter is very predictable if not clichéd.
And while John Jr. is an abrasive vocalist who at times sounds super
confident with a rich baritone voice, he sometime struggles with his
phrasing, as on the acoustic 'Old School'. The whole caboodle comes
wrapped in the some sumptuous horn led arrangements which manage to
cover the cracks.
That said, John Lee Jr. does have an interesting line of patter as
evidenced on the opening narrative of the 'Dear John' letter. The blend
of irony and humour is as original as it is engaging and his subsequent
mix of capable muscular funk and horn led shuffles are easy on the ear.
Certainly the big band arrangement and Lou Rawls style baritone voice on
'I Miss You So' and the gentle funk of the Johnny Guitar Watson
influenced 'Stressed Out' and 'There's A Struggle' is impressive enough.
And on the latter John comes up with some better lyrical content working
out the good versus bad, 'angels' versus 'devil' dichotomy.
But too often you get the feeling that there's an artist of potent
potential who is been pushed just a shade too far, too early. On 'The
People Want a Change' for example, there's a monumental big band intro
before a huge horn arrangement leads us into a contrasting funky groove
over which John Jr. expresses the need for political change.
Musically it's almost as if someone is trying to make his voice fit a
pre-determined mould. As it is, John saves his best for last on the
closing short jazzy blues of 'That Be The Blues' which comes coupled
with Will Griffin's cool expressive piano and Frankie B. Bailey sultry
You can imagine that Hooker Junior might go down well in France where
their conception of the blues remains almost in aspic. And although well
produced and slickly packaged 'All Odds Against Me' is old wine in new
bottles and John Lee Hooker Jr. isn't quite the vintage bluesman yet.