Picks and Pans Review: The Healer

updated 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

John Lee Hooker

Hurtin' and healin' are Hooker's stock-in-trade. Since he started singing and playing the blues six decades ago as a barefoot boy growing up in the Mississippi Delta, Hooker has practiced a form of mojo magic that earned him the nickname Boogie Man. Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Keith Richards, among others, shamelessly copied his heartbeat rhythmic style on guitar. But none of Hooker's imitators has ever come close to matching his emotional intensity or his ability to conjure a cure for the most common of all human maladies: lovesickness.

On The Healer, several prominent rock guitarists pay Hooker back in kind for his inspiration. The title track is a sorcerer's delight, with Carlos Santana soaring and swooping to a conga-driven Latin beat while Hooker howls in a voice as ethereal as an ice-bitten night wind. Getting downright funky on "I'm in the Mood," Hooker growls lasciviously as he trades licks with Bonnie Raitt. Robert Cray's cool and pristine walking blues on "Baby Lee" is a study in contrast to George Thorogood's buzz-saw approach to "Sally Mae." Slide guitarist Roy Rogers and the band Canned Heat boogie down on "Cuttin' Out," and Cesar Rosas and Los Lobos add a fiesta touch to "Think Twice."

Hooker goes it alone for much of the second half of the album, with material that runs the gamut from the raggedy country blues of "Rockin' Chair" to the airy romanticism of "My Dream." Hooker sticks to a few basic chords and often blithely wreaks havoc on the meter of the 12-bar blues form. But his leather-timbred voice has grown even more sensuous and supple with age. And he has not lost the rambunctious spirit that characterized his 1949 hit "Boogie Chillen" and other early R&B classics, the best of which can now be heard in digitally remastered splendor on John Lee Hooker's 40th Anniversary Album (DCC/Sensation).

Hooker is a consummate musical raconteur whose dark tales of broken promises and cheating hearts may make you weep. But if you allow yourself to get down—way down—you'll discover the truth of Hooker's promise: "The blues will heal you." (Chameleon Music)

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