Sam Lightnin' Hopkins remains as one of the more frequently recorded blues players in the music's history. No stranger to the confines of a studio, his first sessions date back to 1946 for the Aladdin label and he continued making quality records until his death in 1982. Countless imprints held his work on 78's, 45's, and LP's, and the same holds true today, only with CD's. The 27 tracks here are from a few separate trips into a Houston studio in 1959 and they were produced by blues historian, Mack McCormick, originally appearing on the Tradition banner.
Disc one clocks in at 43 minutes and holds 12 tracks of Lightnin' alone thumping on a well-recorded acoustic guitar. From slow and brooding cuts like "In The Evening" and "Short Haired Woman" to bristling shuffle and boogie patterns well-displayed on "Get Off My Toe" or "Bottle Up And Go," Hopkins draws beauty from his strings and expression from his voice. He's stellar and in his element throughout the dozen offerings, but stands out on a brooding "75 Highway" and "That Gambling Life." Standards are present with "Trouble In Mind" brilliant where you can hear his hand rapping the guitar body as he uses a series of quick downstrokes in repetitive fashion for accent.
The second disc collects 15 tracks and logs in at 42 minutes with the opener, "Long Time" particularly memorable, although brief. His vocals have a wonderful 'back room' sound on a number of tracks with "Rainy Day Blues" being exceptional. Sam's friend, the sadly under-recorded Luke 'Long Gone' Miles, has a couple of guest spots offering spoken asides on "Baby!" and the desperate "Prison Blues Come Down On Me," with highly effective guitar. There's plenty more with a wonderful version of "Bluebird, Bluebird" and a moody "Worrying My Mind," plus fine looks at more traditional fare on "Go Down Old Hannah," "See See Rider" and "Long Gone Like A Turkey Through The Corn."
While it's nice to see to see these 27 tracks gathered together for a fine look at Hopkins during his middle period, what's disconcerting is that the sessions these tracks stem from produced a wealth of material. With each disc running just under 45 minutes, the remaining empty and unfilled space certainly could have been put to better use. Remastering gets a high grade as the sound throughout is nothing less than truly satisfying and Joe Nick Patoski's liner notes are entertaining. One other element that deserves question is how Mack McCormick managed to wheedle his way into the songwriting department since Hopkins was always an off-the-cuff artist who couldn't be bothered with rehearsals or actual songwriting, never mind have someone else hand him penned-out lyrics. It's a known fact that while Hopkins might have cut tracks any number of times, they never sounded completely the same. Lightnin's art was nothing less than 'of the moment' and McCormick's appearance in the credit department raises definite issues of scruples.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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