In The Key Of Lightnin'
(Tomato (2002) 2098)
by Craig Ruskey
Review date: November 2002
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
The heart and soul of Texas Blues guitar as we know it today doesn't rest squarely on the shoulders of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jesse Thomas, or other early figures as much as it rests on the entire tradition as it's been passed on through the years. Talk blues guitar from the Lone Star State and the number of names can be dazzling to say the least; the Black Ace, Smokey Hogg, Cal Green, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, and Stevie Ray Vaughan are all bound to come up, just as surely as Lightnin' Hopkins will. This 45-minute gem from one of the true masters of Texas blues guitar is a bit short on playing time by today's standards, but it's loaded with the ingredients that made Lightnin' the legend he remains 20 years after his death. Although it lists eighteen tracks on the tray card, there are actually thirteen cuts, while the remaining five are Lightnin' talking about varied topics. The initial spoken introduction finds him professing his abilities loud and clear, and from that point on, it's an awesome ride. Backed the incredible drumming of Francis Clay for ten songs, the pair dig in solidly and work flawlessly together. Hopkins had his own sense of time and numerous producers who tried to pair him with an entire band soon found the inherent difficulties apparent. Clay manages telepathic accompaniment whether on up-tempo shuffles like "Cryin' Shame" and "Black Cadillac" or the gripping slow drags of "Short Haired Woman," "Pneumonia Blues," or "I Once Was A Gambler." Johnny 'Big Moose' Walker settles in for some solid piano work along with Paul Asbell's guitar, Geno Skaggs' bass, and Jeff Carp's tasteful harmonica on the Ray Charles' standard "What'd I Say" and a lowdown "Katie Mae." These two stand well among the set although they lack the musical communication that Hopkins and Clay displayed. The short quips and discussions add to the feeling of being there and listeners unfamiliar with Hopkins will delight in his humor. Bill Wasserzieher's liner notes aren't exactly a history lesson on Lightnin' but they fit well in context with the musical outings. While it's nice to see the Tomato label back on its feet and issuing blues, this disc could easily have been trussed out considerably since there's plenty more material from these sessions that wasn't included. While it's perhaps not as essential as Hopkins' blazing Herald tracks (partially reissued last year on the re-started Buddha label) or some of his earlier recordings from his days on the Aladdin label, there's plenty of textbook Texas blues guitar inside.
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