John Lee Hooker ‘Burning Hell’ Bonus Edition (State of Art) 4/5

Part of a wide-ranging re-issue series that focuses on quality recordings and providing’ start of the art’ remastering and repackaging, with luxury gatefold sleeves and inner sleeves (why are not all CD’s afforded this treatment?), this splendid digipak is in fact a re-issue of an original Riverside album that came out in the mid-1960’s to tie in with the folk revival and finds John Lee Hooker in largely acoustic folk-blues mode accompanied solely by his own guitar, and it is a far more intimate sound than younger blues fans might expect from those who have heard his late 1980’s and early 1900’s recordings. Needless to say, that with Hooker, it is the storytelling quality to the music that is always given major priority, as with, ‘Graveyard blues’, or the even more graphically worded, ‘I don’t want no woman if her hair ain’t no longer than mine’, and consequently that means some worthwhile and entertaining listening, and there is a freshness to the interpretations that transcends time and place. Indeed it is fascinating to hear one of his staple tunes, ‘Baby, please don’t go’, revisited in acoustic form and this is an album highlight. As a bonus, eight additional songs, dating between 1952 and 1961, one of which is a performance from the 1960 Newport Folk Festival, and it is simply a pity we are unable to hear more of that since the music is revelatory, with a stunning live version of, ‘Tupelo’. Already working up to be a series, watch out for more of these re-issues with a Miles Davis cinematic classic forthcoming in this review section.

Tim Stenhouse