The Legendary Modern Recordings,
This review is from: John Lee Hooker: The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954 (Audio CD)
I'm in two minds about The Legendary Modern Recordings, probably because it's very much a compilation of two halves.
The first half of this CD is nothing less than classic and essential Hooker, just the man with his guitar and stomping foot, banging out quality material. The second half becomes something of a mixed bag, with a distinct sag in the middle. The run of stone cold classics drops off and additional musicians begin to make an appearance, to the extent that a couple of tracks sound downright cheesy and cliched.
From a mastering perspective this is a very clean sounding CD - maybe at times too clean? I can't help feeling the modern process of transferring this material from the original vinyl to a digital format resulted in the loss of some of the "life" of the sound. For example; Boogie Chillen on this CD, despite being fantastically clean and surface noise free, simply doesn't engage with me in the same way it does on other compilations. Even though its exactly the same recording, it just seem to be missing that certain "something".
To briefly digress, this disc was released by Ace Records just a year after their Blues Brother compilation. That Hooker CD takes material from the same 1940s/1950s period but was originally transferred from vinyl in the 1970s, and to my ears it sounds much more natural, vibrant and engaging. I can't help thinking that difference is down to the mastering technique.
So to sum up;
At least 50% of The Legendary Modern Recordings consists of essential John Lee Hooker. Out of the rest, 25% is Hooker on near enough top form and 25% is material-which-should-have-remained-on-a-B-side Hooker. The overall sound of the CD is incredibly clean, with just the occasional rumble of surface noise.
For someone making their first foray into Hooker's early years this is a good enough place to start. However, since its release in the early 1990s numerous budget-priced Hooker compilations have appeared which feature much of the same material in a similarly clean quality. Bearing in mind this title seems to have sustained a relatively high price tag over the years, it may be better for the Hooker novice to spend a couple of quid buying one of the latter as a taster and graduating to this if they like what they hear.
I'll give The Legendary Modern Recordings three stars.