he's back -- inspired, down, and dirty

Don't Look Back (Virgin/Pointblank)
John Lee Hooker

By Keith H. Brown

1997 will go down in rock n' roll history as a real banner year for Van Morrison.

Not only did he put out one of the strongest records of his long career, The Healing Game (and arguably the best release by anybody so far this year) but he produced this fine album for one of his mentors, the venerable John Lee Hooker. Right off, this album finds the legendary blues man sounding more inspired than he has in years.

After a spatter of so-so albums (The Healer, Boom-Boom, Mr. Lucky) bulging with enough guests stars (Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Los Lobos) to fill a small arena, Hooker has finally back come to earth with a down and dirty set that suggests he's as tired as us of all the posturing.

We get things going with his old standby, "Dimples," which sets the mood that we're here to boogie, not mess around. No sooner have we gotten back down to earth when we're treated to Hooker's own version of Morrison's "The Healing Game," which he renders superbly.

If the title track is the most affecting on the album, it's probably the sentiment in both Hooker's and Morrison's singing as much as in the writing. Driven by soulful keyboard work by Charles Brown, it's a remembrance of lives and loves past, and coming to terms with those experiences. The song is beautiful, especially when Morrison joins in on vocals. Then, the transition is welcome and complete.

From there, Hooker visits some slow blues and even tackles a Hendrix tune ("Red House") with ages-old confidence. The album closer, "Rainy Days," blisters with intensity courtesy of Hooker's guitar. In all, a satisfying outing.