CD REVIEW: John Lee Hooker, Bo Bo Jenkins, Sam Kelly, et al. - Down Home Blues Detroit - Detroit Special



John Lee Hooker, Bo Bo Jenkins, Sam Kelly, et al. - Down Home Blues Detroit - Detroit Special
(Wienerworld WNRCD5095. 3-CD Set. CD review by Olie Brice)

The Detroit blues of the 1940s-60s has never had the reputation and fame of the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Etta James in Chicago,, but this three-CD box set should help change that, providing an in-depth look at a varied and exciting scene well worth checking out. The electric blues of the 1940s and 50s is one of those musical contexts when you can actually hear a historical period shift. As Black migration from the post-slavery feudal sharecropping South moved up to the industrial capitalism of the big cities in the North, musicians adapted their vocabulary for a new world. Still rife with poverty and racism, day-to-day life was nonetheless very different, and the music reflects this – louder, brasher, more riff-based and suited to urban nightclubs.

The best-known of the Detroit blues artists was John Lee Hooker, and this set features 7 of his earliest recordings. These are probably the biggest highlight of the box, with his unique style already in place – the droning, pulsating guitar, raw and mysterious vocals and freedom of form.

Other highlights include the wonderful, Delta-based style of Calvin Frazier (who worked with Robert Johnson and recorded for Alan Lomax before moving north to Detroit), and the mysterious L C Green who had two fingers joined together on each hand, and sometimes sounds like he comes from Mali or Western Sahara. The singer Eddie Burns, sometime member of John Lee Hooker’s band, has an incredible voice and a freedom that sometimes leads to brief confusion with his bandmates, although never for long. Further interest is to be found in some of the sidemen on the recordings. Although they don’t lead sessions of their own, the wonderful piano playing of Charlie Mills (with Baby Boy Warren) and the fantastic harmonica playing of Robert Richard, featured on a number of tracks.

With music from 21 different artists, fascinating, well researched liner notes in a 48 page booklet and attractive packaging, this box set is highly recommended – a real insight into a lesser-known but wonderful blues scene.

LINK: Down Home Blues Detroit full track listing at Wienerworld. The album is released on 19th August.

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