John Lee Hooker, Jr., heir to one of the most prestigious names in the history of blues and a leader in ushering this deeply rooted American art form into the new century, makes his Telarc debut with a rollicking, straight-to-the gut recording, Cold As Ice.
Hooker, whose father was an architect of modern American blues in the 1940s and '50s with hits like "Boogie Chillen," "I'm in the Mood" and "Crawlin' Kingsnake," has evolved into a formidable blues figure in his own right—as evidenced by a GRAMMY nomination (Traditional Blues Album) and a Handy Award (Best New Artist Debut) for his 2004 release, Blues with a Vengeance.
Armed with a clever and topical sense of songcraft, a compelling vocal attack and a solid backup crew, Hooker infuses Cold As Ice with the best elements of the old school and recasts them for newer, younger, 21st century audiences. The results are traditional and edgy at the same time.
Cold As Ice maintains a generally upbeat and uptempo groove from start to finish. The album gets under way with a gritty track called "You Blew It Baby," an I-told-you-so ode to a woman who pays a high price for trading in a good thing for a bad man. Amid the track's engaging lyrics, churning backbeat and brassy wall of sound from the Hot Sauce Horns is the impressive fretwork of guitarist John Garcia.
The uptempo rhythm and arrangement of "Fed Up" is reminiscent of vintage sides from the heyday of Atlantic, Stax and other R&B spawning grounds, while the slightly bawdy title track, "Cold As Ice," offers up a jazzy lament for a shady woman with a long history of using men up and then spitting them out.
Further in, "Do Daddy" is a heartfelt—but never maudlin—tribute to Hooker's legendary father and the creative tenacity that took him from modest journeyman status in the late 1940s to the accomplished and stylish cultural icon that he had become by the end of the century. "We called him Do Daddy," Hooker sings, "because he did everything he said he'd do."
"Wait Until My Change Comes," takes the tempo and the mood down quite a bit, followed by the profoundly earthy and primal (yet vaguely comic) groove of "4 Hours Straight"/"Blues Man," a track that grinds its way along a single chord well past the eight-minute mark.
"I'm in the Mood" is a churning cover of one of Hooker Sr.'s most memorable hits. With help from Garcia, keyboardist Will "Roc" Griffin and the rest of the tightly-woven crew, the son settles into the same groove dug more than fifty years ago by the father. A few tracks later, "Evabody Pays Attention" brings the set to a lighthearted close with a New Orleans backbeat established by a persistent bass line, tight horn accents and shimmering keyboards.
John Lee Hooker, Jr. does justice to the revered blues legacy attached to his name. Cold As Ice covers every corner of the thermal spectrum—deep cool, red hot and all parts in between.