Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr. – Testify

Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr.
Testify
Steppin’ Stone Records (release date: February 14, 2020)

By Bob Marovich

“From the blues to the good news,” declares the Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr.’s website, though listening to his new album, Testify, blues has not left the building entirely. It’s just backing up lyrics of encouragement and warning instead of “Extramarital Affair” and “Pay the Rent.”

Son of the legendary bluesman John Lee “Boogie Man” Hooker, Reverend John Lee Jr. received Grammy nominations for his blues albums. But a life of imprisonment, addiction, and having been being shot and stabbed forced him to make a right turn. Today, he is saved, sanctified, and sober. He’s eager to share his story in music, too, lest others go down the wayward path he had tread. That is the message of Testify.

Hooker gets right to his cautionary tale in the opener, “Listen to the Spirit,” which features Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. The song swings with a swamp blues beat as Hooker confesses his sins and chronicles his ultimate deliverance. “Preach It Like It Is” is a twelve-bar blues that ruminates on our out-of-control society and on those who practice Christianity only when convenient. Like many other cuts on the album, it’s propelled by a muscular brass section, a relentless rhythm section, and a choir of background voices.

On the retro title track, a further amplification on how alcohol, heroin, and cocaine almost took him out, Hooker evokes the technique of B. B. King in pulling deep wells of emotion from the electric guitar. Some of the chord changes come straight from classic 1940s R&B.

In addition to autobiography, the songs, which reference Biblical passages, focus on salvation as the way to gain entrance to the hereafter.

The one song on the album with the least hardcore blues backdrop is the single, “My God is Holy.” Its mainstream sound is likely why it was selected for radio play.

Lyrically, some rhymes feel forced and some beats struggle under the weight of lifting too many syllables. Nevertheless, Testify is expertly produced by Hooker and Larry Batiste. It’s an amalgam of gospel and blues, two genres from the same source that never were very far from each other, musically. The Reverend John Lee Hooker Jr. proves that.

Four of Five Stars

Picks: “Listen to the Spirit,” “My God is Holy”

About Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.

3 comments

  1. Hello Bob
    Thanks for your review and professional input on “Testify ”
    Your words mean a lot to me.
    God bless you sir.
    Rev John Lee

    • You are most welcome, Rev. John Lee. Separately, I’m working on a history of Vee Jay Records, where your father was a longtime recording artist!

  2. Raul James (Estrada)

    God is holy along with your other songs are inspirational Johnny. God works in mysterious ways.
    Ric Feliciano-trombone/music arrangements (Latin rhythm boys)is working with me on my single and album. It is not gospel music , however I believe it is God drive. I noticed that Pete E. Was in your video. Along with other fantastic artists. Your message for repentance is with out a doubt, “ Attentive”, snd with definitely capture the listeners.. many blessings
    My brother Johnny.
    Raul James

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