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Until someone releases the entire works in chronological order this is, without doubt, the most enjoyable anthology of John Lee Hooker's music I've ever encountered. 

This box set is made up of his recordings from his first session for King in 1948 to 1958 when he was making hits for Vee Jay and it contains random selections from his records made for Chance, Acorn, Sensation, Gone, Chess, Fortune, Hi-Q. For the most part, John Lee plays solo electric guitar, ripping out fourteen and fifteen bar riffs, vicious string popping licks and free form percussive tempos that perfectly accompanied his dark expressive vocals. These rumbling blues with their almost improvised movements, full of surprisingly rhythmic invention, are primitive and raw but they are what set him on his career as one of the blues world's best loved musicians. Listen to any of the tracks here and you'll realise why.

I particularly love the very early stuff with its spontaneous wide-open phrasing and almost African rhythms and strange mood changes - he really gets way out on songs like High Priced Woman. As the music moved into the 50s he was forming a more structured form of blues with Eddie Kirkland, Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Reed producing important hits like Dimples and I Love You Honey but, even at this stage, John Lee Hooker was still keen to sit down, tap his foot and deliver music as archaic and mysterious as anything that had ever gone before in the blues.

He was a one-off and it's no wonder his name is always mentioned when aficionados discuss the best blues musicians that have ever lived. Get this and you'll find out why!

Review Date: September 2009

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