During his formative years, Long John Hunter was a fixture in the rough-and-tumble clubs that dot the Mexican border. Holding his own in less than genteel circumstances, he relied on musical skill, quick wit, and when all else failed, sheer luck to make it through more than a few nights.
His big break came in the nineties, with a couple of discs distributed nationally on the Alligator label. It’s been a while, though, and Looking For A Party, his debut on the Blues Express label, reflects his changed circumstances, with the results a somewhat mixed bag.
Although Hunter is the vocalist and his strong, stinging guitar is present throughout, producer Dennis Walker’s heavy hand is all over the project. He wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes and assembled the band. And he’s responsible for a couple of rather questionable production issues.
Things start out on a promising note with the title track, a good-time shuffle punctuated by brassy blasts from a fine horn section. But “What’s Come Over You,” the disc’s second track, is marred by genuinely bizarre rinky-tink keyboards and overly-busy percussion that distract from the song’s emotional message. And the synthesized strings on the otherwise strong “Beggar Man” are simply cheesy.
Elsewhere, though, there are enough satisfying moments. “Looking For My Baby’ rides a rumba beat to excellent effect, and “Apple Of My Eye” is another horn-fueled shuffle that works, as does “You Say You Want A Caddy.” “Greener Pastures” and the hard-driving “It’s Hard To Please A Woman” stay within twelve-bar convention with excellent results. Walker’s wife Gayle wrote the gospel-flavored “I Know A Man” and co-wrote the tender “You Are My World” with keyboardist Jim Pugh. Neither is likely to become a standard, but Hunter delivers both with heartfelt candor.
“Me And Phil,” the tune that closes the disc, is a bit odd – it features Hunter’s reminiscences of days gone by, yet despite the autobiographical nature of both the song and Hunter’s delivery, it was actually written by Walker and guitarist and engineer Alan Mirikitani.
Walker’s experienced some health issues since his last release, and though he’s unlikely to be swinging from the rafters (the title of one of his Alligator discs from the '90s) anytime soon, there’s a satisfying maturity to this music. His fretwork remains fleet, with concise, stinging leads the order of the day – he’s never been one to waste a note. His voice sounds older, but any loss of energy is more than made up for with hard-won wisdom. And as befits an elder statesman, there’s a bit of a reflective air to this project (even if those reflections were ghosted, as in “Me And Phil”).
Still, as the title suggests, there’s lots of life left, and one suspects that as long as he’s able, Long John Hunter will indeed be Looking For A Party!