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Various Artists
FROM CLARKSDALE TO HEAVEN: REMEMBERING JOHN LEE HOOKER
(BLUE STORM)

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Blues tribute albums and high quality are usually distant relatives, but this 14-song entry is surprisingly good. Itís powered by figures from the British blues pantheon including Jeff Beck, Jack Bruce, Gary Moore, Gary Brooker, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor. The focus is on guitars; when it slips, so does the album. After a mediocre start by Hookerís daughter Zakiya with pianist Johnny Johnson and former Hooker sideman Bobby Murray, things improve as Bruce and Moore dig into " Iím in the Mood " and a trio called LIC follow Hookerís blueprint for the nasty gangster fantasy " Bad like Jesse James. " Beckís take on Hookerís arrangement of " Will the Circle Be Unbroken, " with a choir, sings sweetly, even if it lacks the magic of his earlier gospel covers like " People Get Ready. " An acoustic " Groundhog Blues " brings new colors to the tune with Dick Heckstall-Smithís saxophones, and Greenís " Crawliní King Snake " holds true to the country blues spirit.

When toward the compilationís end Moore and Bruce reteam for " Serve Me Right To Suffer, " the disc gets its darkest, most potent track. Bruce plays the vocal for all its pathos, and Moore keeps his tone low and brooding, mimicking Hookerís hammer-ons and trembling vibrato in a stark, riveting solo. The album ends with Hooker himself directing Spiritís Randy California and organist Booker T. Jones through Jimi Hendrixís " Red House. " This previously unreleased 1999 reading is utterly uninspired, but itís still good to hear the old manís voice one more time.

BY TED DROZDOWSKI

Issue Date: November 28 - December 5, 2002
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