Album Review

John Lee Hooker - Burnin' (60th Anniversary Edition)

It’s unmissable – history you can dance to.

Holler Country Music
February 20, 2023 12:49 pm GMT
Last Edited February 21, 2023 9:42 am GMT

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Until the modern era, the blues, like country, had never really been an album genre. It lived and thrived in the live environment or as single songs on jukeboxes and record players, but albums were generally speaking beyond its ken. There were outliers from the likes of Ray Charles, of course, but it wasn’t until a good 50 years or so after its initial codification that the blues album as a distinct entity became a viable concept.

Nowadays, with the increased emphasis on single tracks by streaming services, it often seems like that time has come again. But this week marks the arrival of the 60th anniversary edition of one of the key early blues albums: John Lee Hooker’s incomparable Burnin, originally unleashed on the world in 1962.

Incomparable? Well, yes. Burnin’ is the album that signified a paradigm shift in Hooker’s career. It saw him record for the first time with a fully electric R&B band, one that set him on the course that would define the rest of his recorded output and see him become one of – if not the – most influential bluesmen of the modern age.

And what a band they were. The musicians assembled were in essence the Motown house band, the incomparable Funk Brothers, James Jamerson et al, sliding quietly across from Detroit to Chicago on a day off from backing The Miracles, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye. And a day – October 26th 1961 -is literally all it took.

It was a new environment for Hooker that day, confronted with a precision tooled band well accustomed to playing off each other and to following the foibles of whoever they happened to be backing - and the results were for the ages. First among equals of course is ‘Boom Boom’, Hooker’s signature song and the catalyst for thousands of garage bands across the US and the UK to get their groove on, but it is by no means alone.

There isn’t a weak track on the album and it remains as fresh and exciting a listen in 2023 as it did 61 years ago on its original release. You can’t fail to be excited by the lustful roar of ‘Let’s Make It’ or ‘Keep Your Hands to Yourself’, even as you marvel how the latter manages to skilfully re-purpose the Chaamps’ classic 1958 instrumental ‘Tequilainto something rather darker, or lean back into the bluesier restraint of ‘New Leaf’.

And this welcome reissue from Craft Recordings gives us even more to enjoy. It presents the album in the original mono & stereo mixes, both sensitively remastered by Joe Tarantino to make them sound better than they ever have before. It’s unmissable – history you can dance to.

10/10

Burnin' (60th Anniversary Edition) is released on Friday 24th February via Craft Recordings. Click here to pre-order/pre-save and visit JohnLeeHooker.com for official merchandise bundles and more.

Written by Mark Hagen
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