John Lee Hooker's 'Whiskey & Wimmen' tops list of best new blues releases
Courtesy of Jupiter 2 Records

Sometime this August (the exact date is uncertain) will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of the highly-influential bluesman John Lee Hooker. Just about every blues player today owes a debt to Hooker, and his guitar playing style has influenced countless rock performers, from early acts like Bo Diddley and the Animals to current players ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones. In honor of this year being a milestone for Hooker, Concord Bicycle Music’s resurrected Vee-Jay imprint presents the timely release of Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest, a 16-track compilation featuring a set penned mostly by Hooker himself and featuring some of his best-known songs. The album tops our list of recommended new blues releases.

John Lee HookerWhiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest (Vee-Jay)

The lustful “Boom Boom” opens this set as Hooker details just exactly what he wants to do to a woman he has his eye on. The cut went to #1 on the R&B charts back in 1962 and the phrase “boom boom boom boom!” has had a sexy connotation ever since. Other Hooker favorites are here, including the oft-covered “Boogie Chillun’” which is basically where George Thorogood took his licks from. “Frisco Blues” where Hooker engages in call-and-response vocals with background singer Mary Wilson (The Supremes) and “Crawlin’ Kingsnake,” famously covered by The Doors. The one included song not written or co-written by Hooker is another very beloved tune; a take on Berry Gordy’s “I Need Some Money.” Long time Hooker fans will already be familiar with all that’s here, but Whiskey & Wimmen offers a perfect starting point for those not yet hip to one of the greatest blues players ever.

Geoff AchisonAnother Mile, Another Minute (Jupiter 2/Landslide)

Those who attend blues festivals regularly are likely familiar with this Australian guitar player as he’s been a regular on the U.S. festival circuit for years. With a voice that recalls the late great Joe Cocker, Achison’s forte goes beyond traditional blues and here he offers a set of subdued R&B (“Dreaming I’m Awake”), percolating blues-funk (“Sum Peeples Got All De Fonk”), shimmering jazz rock that would make Steely Dan fans smile (“I Need Help”) and of course plenty of straight ahead blues. The album is up for four Australian Blues Music Awards and it’s easy to hear why.

Sean ChambersTrouble & Whiskey (American Showplace Music)

Chambers spent five years as the guitarist and band leader for late Chicago bluesman Hubert Sumlin, who in turn, was the guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf. No wonder then that Chambers has the vocal styling and chops of a classic bluesman, and here he lets it fly throughout, showcasing his slide guitar playing on “Bottle Keeps Staring at Me,” recalling the style of Robert Cray with the slow simmer of the title cut, and channeling Eric Clapton vocally and musically on a smooth take of Johnny Copeland’s “Cut Off My Right Arm.” Most of the songs are written or co-written by Chambers, but he also shines on a raucous cover of Rory Gallagher’s “Bullfrog Blues” and BB King’s “Be Careful with a Fool.”

Vanessa CollierMeeting My Shadow (Ruf)

Collier is a one-time member of Joe Louis Walker’s band and she’s racked up a tremendous amount of accolades, including finishing in the top three in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and being named Best of 2014 Blues Breaker on Dan Akroyd’s House of Blues radio show. The singer and sax player might as well go ahead and add another shelf to her trophy case because clearly, she’s going to need it. With a voice that often recalls that of blues-rock stalwart Bonnie Raitt, Collier turns up the heat with the sultry funk of “Poisoned the Well,” the swampy R&B of “When it Don’t Come Easy” and the roadhouse dance floor burner “Two Parts Sugar, One Part Lime.” A rousing cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air” shows that Collier can rock the gospel pretty good too.

Zoe Schwarz Blue CommotionThis is the Life I Choose (33)

Schwarz has a big, gutsy voice and she really belts out the opening track “Hold On,” a fast groove that features a driving rhythm and Hammond-led melody. “My Baby Told Me So” finds Schwarz toning things down but swinging a little. Overall the arrangement brings much of Joni Mitchell’s work to mind. “People” is a fast boogie, a cover of Cream’s “We’re Going Wrong” tunes sweetly and slightly psychedelically into a Summer of Love deep track, and “Exit,” where every line begins with the song title, is perhaps the album’s catchiest track.