One of my favorite blues discoveries of the 1990's was Long John Hunter. A brilliant singer-guitarist, he recorded several fine albums that were produced by Tary Owens, John Foose and Steve Jeter. A showman in his younger days as suggested by the title of the Alligator release, Swinging From the Rafters, I had the pleasure of seeing Hunter a number of times although he no longer tours as much today. His recordings for Alligator (including his collaboration with Lonnie Brooks and the late Phillip Walker, Lone Star Shootout( amongst the finest albums of modern Texas blues of the past few decades. His mix of inventive, twisting guitar and honest, gritty vocals holds up for repeated listening. This review originally appeared in the September 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 224) and I received a review copy from Alligator.
Long John Hunter’s new Alligator album, Swinging From the Rafters, takes its title from his long residency at the Lobby Bar in Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso. There, for over a decade, he would play from nine at night till the rooster crowed before day and developed his showmanship that still characterizes his live performances. Wed that showmanship with first rate vocals and slashing, twisting guitar and you have an artist whose music matches his stage persona.
Kudos to producers Tary Owens and John Foose (and executive producer Steve Jeter) who also collaborated with Hunter on some fine songs. Moreover, Hunter is an artist of considerable depth and range, whether performing shuffles like Time and Time Again or Stop What You’re Doing (with a latin tinge in its rhythm), or hitting a funk groove on I’m Broke. Hunter is equally at home with the jazz-flavored horns on Trouble on the Line.
While the liner notes suggest that this is more guitar-oriented than his prior two albums (including the superb Alligator release, Bordertown Legend), Hunter is a natural, totally honest singer whose vocals are not overshadowed by his guitar pyrotechnics. The result is another first-rate album of modern Texas blues.