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Music Review: John Lee Hooker Jr. – All Hooked Up

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If your name is John Lee Hooker, Jr., how do you make a place for yourself in a musical genre your father helped create and shape? Judging from All Hooked Up, one answer is to take all the old formulas and overlay them with your own stories, including fresh lyrical perspectives and wisdom learned from a long life with the blues.

Born in Detroit in 1952, Hooker Jr. was only eight years old when he began performing on local radio station WJBK. After playing in Detroit clubs, at 18 he was recording with his father on such records as Senior’s Live at Soledad Prison (1972). But a life of excess derailed Junior’s path until his father died in 2001.

Finally, at the age of 52, things jelled for the younger Hooker, who released the multi-award-winning Blues with a Vengeance (2004). This album began establishing his reputation as an artist who’s part of a generation out to modernize the blues. That success was followed by Cold as Ice (2006), All Odds Against Me (2007), and Live in Istanbul, Turkey (2010). With this much depth in Hooker’s arsenal, it shouldn’t be surprising All Hooked Up is a collection of 12 original songs full of easy confidence.

For one matter, Hooker makes his blues very topical. The lead-off track, “Tired of Being a Housewife,” describes a woman tired of all her friends being on Facebook and a husband watching porn on DVDs. “You Be My Hero” is a salute to servicemen deployed around the globe. The piano-led shuffle “Listen to the Music” includes a line from an athlete hoping fans will accept his apology. In the apparently autobiographical “Hard Times,” Hooker sings about his daddy being dead and gone and using his son’s Social Security number to get a loan. Why is Hooker so afraid? It must be “The Meds.”

While the lyrics are right out of the headlines, much of the musical support is traditional Memphis sections with horns and fluid guitar lines featuring the work of blues guitarist, Lucky Peterson. But there is variety here. You’ll think ‘60s soul in general (and Sam and Dave in particular) in Hooker’s duet with Betty Wright on “I Surrender.” Hooker swings like a finger-popping jazz singer in a lounge act for “Pay the Rent,” in which a cash-only landlord advises his tenants to put first things first at the first of the month. In fact, most of the straight-up blues numbers are advice about acting right, as in “Let Me Be” where the singer tells us he doesn’t want to waste time with people who want to shout, fight, and get into trouble. The very personal “All Hooked Up” shares the singer’s odyssey from the lowest of the lows to the redemption of his faith.

There’s one very cool bonus. Back on All Odds Against Me, Hooker took on the guise of “Bluesman,” an animated blues superhero conceived by Callicore Animation Studios in Paris, France. The cartoon appeared on a DVD accompanying the CD and was perhaps the first animated blues cartoon ever made. Likewise, All Hooked Up features a special DVD of an Callicore created animated film noir video for Hooker’s song, “Dear John.” It’s the story of a gent tossed into jail reading a “Dear John” letter that would give anyone the blues if they didn’t already have them before the arrest.

Except when the younger Hooker sings about his father, you won’t think much about the King of the Boogie throughout All Hooked Up. Junior doesn’t have his father’s low-register growl but instead excels at narrative storytelling. This is blues for those who’ve loved them for years and All Hooked Up is perhaps the kind of release that might draw in younger generations. When Facebook is part of the mix, who wouldn’t relate to John Lee Hooker, Jr.? This is an mostly upbeat, affirming set, a good excuse to prove not all the blues sound the same.

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