John Lee Hooker The Best of Friends

Now well into his 80s, John Lee Hooker has been discovered and rediscovered repeatedly over his brilliant career. The electric boogie man of the ‘50s was hailed by the blues-obsessed Stones, Animals, Yardbirds and their British Invasion ilk of the mid-’60s; he was dusted off again by the Blues Brothers and was finally carted out for a cameo appearance as part of the Pepsi Generation a decade ago. This compilation concerns that latter period, beginning with 1989’s The Healer and extending through the present, which pretty much amounts to the longest vogue Hooker has ever enjoyed. Judging from the title of the album though, the real selling point is the list of collaborators he’s worked with in the past decade: Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison and Bonnie Raitt being the chief luminaries. Over the albums from this period and through The Best of Friends, Hooker revisits many of his classic sides, but rarely with the aplomb befitting the innovator that he was when he first recorded — "Boogie Chillen" and "Boom Boom" lose their rhythmic drive and are marred by ham-fisted soloing by Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan, respectively. Of the familiar Hooker standards, only "Dimples" (with Los Lobos) and "Big Legs Tight Skirt" (with Ry Cooder and Ike Turner) approach the raw juke joint joyfulness of the originals. The standouts, though, are the cuts recorded with Van Morrison, the spectral "I Cover the Waterfront" and a moody "Don’t Look Back," both of which bring Hooker closer to deep soul than the skittering boogie beats he made his name with. On the other hand, you can also choose between listening to Hooker do "Boogie Chillen" in a souped up studio with Eric Clapton or listen to him growling his way through it, accompanied only by his unruly guitar and his heel pounding out the beat on the floorboards, and the choice seems pretty clear to me. (Virgin)