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  Listen Up! 1/23/04 Listen Up!

Friday, Jan. 23

John Lee Hooker, “Face to Face,” Eagle Records. This is a surprisingly good record of material Hooker recorded right before he died. I say surprising not because the albums he did late in life were bad, but because it’s been so many years since the last album was released that I wasn’t expecting to hear another one. Hooker was still full of fire, delivering his rhythmically exploratory incantations as if he was dispensing the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps he was. Nobody else ever sang the blues the way he did it. Others could stay on one chord and chant, but they always, even if they were good, ended up sticking to close to the beat and sounding rehearsed. Hooker sounded like he was making it up as he went along, feeling the groove his own way, and pushing and pulling against it. As a result, his dark songs were gloomier, his sexy songs more spontaneous, and his boogies more joyous. The guest appearances are frequent on this record – Dicky Betts, Elvin Bishop, Jack Casady, Warren Haynes, Zakiya Hooker, Johhny Johnson, Van Morrison, George Thorogood, and Johnny Winter all lend hands – but Hooker is the strong presence on this one. He steps aside to let others play lead guitar most of the time, but he’s pounding out the rhythm and his voice is front and center.

The High Strung, “These Are Good Times,” Tee Pee Records. Shhh. Don’t tell anybody, but these guys do all the things everybody is always raving about Guided By Voices doing, only they do them a heck of a lot better. It’s raucous pop music, with a lot of melodic references from 60s icons like the Beatles and the Byrds, only there’s a lot more variety than the four or five tunes Robert Pollard has written over and over and over. I was initially taken with the lovely pop song, “The World’s Smallest Violin,” but, really, I like most of this album just fine.

Gene Clark & Carla Olson, “So Rebellious a Lover,” Fuel 2000 Records. A nice new reissue with lots of bonus tracks of a very nice album of duets between the former Byrd and the former Textone, cut back in 1987 just after she had left her band and just a few years before Clark passed away. This album is full of excellent country-rock songs, beautiful melodies, great singing, lovely arrangements. The bonus tracks are mostly Clark numbers with backing by the Textones, and they sound nice, too, perfectly in keeping with the laid back textures of the album proper. It’s good to have this record back in the marketplace.

--Steve Pick

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