Picks and Pans Review: Face to Face

updated 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/26/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

BLUES

John Lee Hooker

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Up until Hooker's death at 83 in 2001, the years had not diminished his skills as a master blues singer and guitarist. He had all but completed this impressive album before dying, and his daughter Zakiya has shepherded it to release, bringing in a few more guest artists in postproduction to join an all-star cast. Van Morrison joins Hooker on the almost-cute "Dimples," a duet that will send diction purists screaming into the night. Blues rocker George Thorogood serves as a sideman, as do cult favorite blues guitarists Elvin Bishop and Roy Rogers, virtuoso country-rock axeman Dickey Betts and veteran bassist Joe Thomas. Zakiya, who serves as executive producer, also joins her dad on backup vocals and cowrote three of the album's 15 songs. The star of the show is still Hooker, who learned his rhythmic, resonant guitar style from his stepfather as a boy in Clarksdale, Miss. Nobody, though, can teach the passion and understated musicality of his singing on tracks such as the visceral "Rock These Blues Away." A product of more innocent, less vulgar times, Hooker never aimed at any grand themes, yet his music nailed every human emotion, from joyful celebration to self-punishing regret, and this disc is no exception. Listening to Hooker on songs such as the intense "Mad Man Blues" and the quintessential blues "It Serves Me Right to Suffer," one can hear his influence on Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt and dozens of other great blues artists who came after him.

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