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Long John Hunter - Looking For A Party

Blues Express

Though Long John Hunter has been a genuine bluesman with authentic style and showmanship since the 50s, he was a virtual unknown until Alligator Records released his debut CD, "Border Town Legend", in 1995. The Texas bluesman, known locally as the Texas Shuffle King, honed his craft for many years in the bars along the border. His juke joint audience was never scarce of big names either, as Etta James, Gatemouth Brown, Lightnin' Hopkins, and others would often stop by to see and hear the nasal tenor with the clean and melodic guitar licks. Hunter's latest 2009 release on Blues Express, "Looking For A Party", is a solid collection of appealing blues songs. And it just might be his best recorded work to date.

In listening to Hunter's raw yet electrifying guitar chops, it's easy to comprehend that he had influenced the likes of Lonnie Brooks, Phillip Walker, and even Buddy Holly at one time. But even though he's the frontman herein, the incredible diversity in the music from the angle of everyone involved confirms the existence of independent expression in the studio. With producer and chief songwriter Dennis Walker involved, who also produced Robert Cray's "Strong Persuader" and "Midnight Stroll" albums, traditional blues becomes something new and different when treated untraditionally. It's all about arrangement and filling in the spaces.

The title song highlights Hunter's clean guitar sound and relaxed vocal technique. Though the vaudeville piano of Jim Pugh, whose credits read like a who's who in blues, is veiled translucently beneath the rhythm and horn section strength, it's alright, as the keyboardist inserts interesting little additives everywhere. His attention-grabbing chord melody in the next song, "What Comes Over You", is a perfect example of independent expression, and what a talented musician can do to an arrangement to diversify things. Hunter's guitar work is clean and vibrant once again, a sound that seems to pop up out of nowhere, adding character and spirit to every song.

The art of the slow blues is represented in a few places. Although background orchestration broadens the arrangement in "Beggar Man", as does Pugh's piano presence, Hunter's guitar and vocal resonance keep it in a blues mood. "Greener Pastures" is the ideal slow blues in every way. It highlights the band as a whole, especially Hunter's supple and relaxed fretwork. And although Pugh once again does his own thing on the keys, he doesn't stray from slow blues terrain here.

Music like this makes one wonder how much influence Hunter may have had on the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, especially when in Texas shuffle mode. Doing what he's famous for in "Apple Of My Eye", complete with horns amid an impressive rhythmic drive, this solid shuffle dazzles in liveliness. The band sustains the shuffle rhythm and segues nicely into "You Say You Want A Caddy".

"I Know A Man", one of the album's finest tracks, possesses a Van Morrison feel. Nevertheless, the vocal emotion is all Hunter, and his signature guitar style fits the song completely.

"Looking For A Party" is an exemplary blues album. Although it's about as bluesy as electric blues gets, the musicianship throughout is astonishingly creative and unique. The songs are cheerful, pleasant, and just right for the festive atmosphere. Though Long John Hunter may still be unknown to some, "Looking For A Party" is an awakening for fans. It should confirm him as one of the original greats in blues circles everywhere.

Reviewer Brian Holland is a music journalist who resides in Massachusetts.

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