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Riding With Hunter

[whitespace] 'Swinging From the Rafters' and 'Ride With Me' expose the world to the blues of Long John Hunter

By Nicky Baxter

It has taken decades for the blues world outside of Texas to recognize Long John Hunter as one of the genre's most gifted performers. If last year's Swinging From the Rafters was any indicator, blues lovers certainly have been robbed of some hellaciously good music for far too long.

From the swinging insouciance of "Time and Time Again" to the celebratory slow blues of "Love Prevails," Hunter and his backing unit, the Walking Catfish, flex their distinctive brand of late-night good-time music as if it every night was a party.

On Ride With Me (recently rereleased on Alligator Records), we get a glimpse of what Hunter was up to prior to Rafters. Originally issued on the Spindletop label six years ago, these 10 tracks are loaded with blues whose heart and soul are as big as Texas.

"El Paso Rock" and "Tell Me" both boast hard-driving grooves. The first is a real foot-stomper undergirded by a plucky backbeat and shot through with sharp bursts of horn play. Essentially an instrumental with a few vocal asides tossed in for good measure, "El Paso" also shows off Hunter's adroitness as a guitarist, mixing singing, B.B. King-like individual notes with harsh, stabbing rhythmic strumming.

"Tell Me" romps along at a marginally less frantic pace. This time, however, rhythm player Derek O'Brien takes over on lead guitar. Although O'Brien is capable player, he lacks Hunter's jut-jawed aggressiveness. Still, Hunter's lean, swaggering vocal and a pugnacious rhythm section more than compensate, kicking the beat into high gear.

Hunter handles slow-burning numbers with masterful restraint. On the lovelorn "Irene," his pleading vocal suggests that he's on the verge of emotional collapse. His guitar reinforces the feeling, whining mournfully.

On the similarly snail-paced "Crazy Love," Hunter still ain't satisfied, but he's not ready to give up. Hunter's gotta have it, and by the resolute tone of his voice, don't count him out. Ignore Ride With Me's original date of issue, it's every bit as fresh--and accomplished--as Swinging From the Rafters.

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Web extra to the December 24-30, 1998 issue of Metro.

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