Picks and Pans Review: Boom Boom
John Lee Hooker
When Hooker cut his first single, a stomping guitar boogie called "Boogie Chillen" in 1948, the Mississippi native was working as a janitor in a Detroit steel mill. The song was a hit, and Hooker quit his job to play full-time the hypnotic one-chord country blues—sung in his preternatural growl—that he had learned from his stepfather, Will Moore.
Fourty-four years later, the now 72-year-old Hooker has come out with a stark, dark, solo-studded album, which includes a new version of his 1962 full-tilt rocker, "Boom Boom." (Is there a rock band in the world that hasn't played this at some point?) There are also tracks from earlier sessions with noted guitarists Albert Collins and Robert Cray, but the real gems here are Hooker's revisionist versions of his old blues hits, "Sugar Mama" and "Hittin' the Bottle Again." Accompanied only by his own electric guitar, Hooker has given back to these tunes their seductive, deep-blues primalness. And on "I'm Bad Like Jesse James," when Hooker rasps, "I'm mad/ I'm bad/ I'm bad/ I'll stick you in the water/ Hear the bubbles come up/ Mm...Mm...Mm," you are down in the water with him, begging for your life. (Point-blank/Charisma)"
If your idea of a cappella is Boyz II Men, then this new album by Zap Mama, an all-female group whose five members are based in Brussels, will be a shock. Zap Mama, with its extraordinary vocal energy, artfully and beautifully blurs cultural and linguistic distinctions, creating a sonic DMZ that is nothing shy of thrilling.
Formed by Zairean-Belgian singer Marie Daulne, the group reflects not only the mixed racial ancestry of its members, but the increasing musical melding of African and European peoples. Zap Mama, true to its name, crosscuts from culture to culture with the precision and ease of a remote control. With the magnificent ebb and flow of their nondigitized, human harmonies, the group takes what might be exotic sounds and makes them accessible. No mean feat, considering Zap Mama is singing in French, English, Spanish, Zairean, Pygmy and other tribal tongues.
This record reconfirms that the human voice is still the most potent instrument out there. As the planet gets smaller, our musical scope has to get larger. Zap Mama busts down the barriers. (Note: This is the first album released by Luaka Bop, former Talking Head David Byrne's world music label, as part of its new African-Europe series.)
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