Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lightnin' Hopkins Complete Aladdin and Prestige/Bluesville Recordings

EMI has a valuable reissue of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ earliest recordings in the two compact disc set, The Complete Aladdin Recordings. Containing 43 recordings over two compact discs, these recordings include Lightnin’s November 1946 recordings made with pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith in Los Angeles including what would be such standard themes like Katie May and That Mean Old Twister. Hopkins’ second Aladdin session produced a couple of classics, his own Short Haired Woman (“I don’t want no woman who’s hair is shorter than mine.”), while Thunder Smith handled the vocal on Big Mama Jump, a theme that Hopkins would explore in later years. One of the real surprises of the early sessions is a raucous, rocking version of Tampa Red’s Let Me Play With Your Poodle. While the first thirteen selections pair Thunder and Lightnin’, the remaining 28 recordings (from November 1947 and February 1948 are solo performances which include some very distinctive treatments of other artists’ themes (although credited to Lightnin’ like You’re Not Goin’ to Worry My Life No More, adaptations of traditional Texas blues themes like J.T. Smith’s Howling Wolf, and his own unique guitar instrumentals like Lightnin’s Boogie. In part because of the duets with Thunder Smith, I found the first of the two discs to be the easiest to sit through. However, there can be little fault with any of the performances, and one of the valuable reissues of Hopkins’ early recordings.

Another Lightnin’ Hopkins compact disc of great note is The Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings. This is a seven compact disc set with a booklet by Sam Charters that collects 111 recordings on six discs along with a seventh disc containing eight spoken excerpts from an interview that Charters conducted in which Hopkins recalled his early days and his influences. Included are the contents of eleven albums and a previously unissued 1964 concert at Swarthmore College.

The earliest recordings here date from the same time as Lightnin’s Candid recordings, while the latest date from 1964, and the sessions find him in a range of settings including two solo concerts; a session with Sonny Terry, bassist Leonard Gaskin and drummer Belton Evans; sessions with longtime Houston associates Harpist Billy Bizor, barrelhouse pianist Buster Pickens, bassist Donald Cooks and drummer Spider Kirkpatrick; and sessions on which the rhythm section was overdub. There is a startling range of material here from Ain’t It Crazy (the same song as Mighty Crazy for Candid), Back to New Orleans and/or Baby Please Don’’t Go), Green Onion, Little Sister’s Boogie, Katie Mae, Take Me Back, You Is One Black Rat, My Babe, Mean Old Frisco, Me and Ray Charles, Rocky Mountain Blues, I was Standing on 75 Highway, Mojo Hand. Included are some of Lightnin’s songs where he conjured up material on current events like Happy Blues for John Glenn.

There are many very fine performances, although some of the recordings with a rhythm section sound somewhat ordinary, and I would be hard pressed to find many recordings that rank with the very best of his recordings. Yet the sheer breadth of the material here, all imbued with his personal stamp as a blues singer and guitarist, make this a most highly recommended boxed set that should hopefully still be in the better local record stores. They can always order it for you.

This review originally appeared in the December 1992 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 177) and I likely received review copies from the record companies. Both sets are available as downloads and can be obtained as used.

No comments: