June 2001

The Hoodoo Kings
Telarc CD-83532
Released: 2001

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]When I think of the essence of Louisiana, I think of cornmeal-crusted catfish, seasoned with more than a touch of cayenne. I think of raw oysters, gumbo, and red beans and rice. I think of the bright colors of Mardi Gras and of revelers crazy in the streets. I think of blues filled with life, filled with stories -- and seasoned with more than a touch of cayenne. This was my mindset when I sat down to listen to The Hoodoo Kings, a new release on the Telarc Blues label.

The liner notes tell of a prophecy: "Deep in the cypress swamps near Lake Pontchatrain, well before they were swamps, it was written in stone -- a prophecy that three kings would come to shape the sounds that would become the benchmark of music we know as the blues...but only after fulfilling the prophecy could they let the world know that they, indeed, are the Hoodoo Kings." What an intro.

The Hoodoo Kings are three senior blues veterans, each with a colorful career, together totaling over 150 years of experience. They are keyboardist Eddie Bo, harmonica player Raful Neal, and guitar player Rockin’ Tabby Thomas. All three handle the vocals on this disc.

"I Fought the Law," a well-covered Sonny Curtis classic, starts out the disc. The musicians really rock on this song. Bo’s fingers still have lots of lightening as they fly across the ivory. As powerful as the instruments are, a slight quiver in the vocals gives away the long years spent on the road. You can hear and feel the history in these guys' voices. Unfortunately, in high energy tunes such as "Stumble and Fall" and "Monkey Business," there is something lost, or perhaps not quite attained.

I always preferred Muddy Waters when he slowed the pace a bit. The Kings exhibit much more regal heritage when things slow down. This is most evident in "I Need Your Love So Bad," as the words are drawn out to the point of making it really hurt: "I need a soft voice to talk to me at night / and don’t worry baby / we won’t fuss and fight / I want you to listen to my plea / and bring it on home to me." Niiiice.

Raful Neal shows off his songwriting talents with three originals. A little funk seems to creep into Neal’s tunes, along with some of the best guitar riffs on the disc. Indeed the prophecy reads, "one would become the dean of funky music." This is clear in the funk-infused, dark duet "Luberta," which tells the story of the murder of a man’s lover and the eventual bringing down of her killer. On "Hard Times," some electrifying harmonica mixes follow an addictive hard driving beat. The harmonica seems to play off the guitar riffs, filling in the spaces as if in conversation.

The recording is a real mixed bag. Telarc has frequently done a much better job lately with subtlety in its recordings. This is not one of those times. The sound can get quite forward at times, tearing at your ears a little. Still, for those who truly love the blues, much of this can be forgiven. There aren’t too many of these veterans left out there, least of all with a prophecy to introduce them. How about a little more cayenne?