Sam Hooper Group

Sam Hooper Group

Self-produced, FBJoy Records: FBJ2031

By Karen Nugent
June 2008

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Itís not often you get a blues CD with “Recorded in the Peopleís Republic of China” stamped on it. On the other hand, this isnít exactly a blues album.

Either way, the Chinese character on the cover, the red background, and the title gives a pretty good hint that Hooper is enamored with the country, and it does sound pretty cool there - as he explains in the liner notes.

“People responded warmly to our brand of funky blues, and we were quickly performing to a packed house on a regular basis. While the crowd sang along, danced, and grooved with us, we were able to stretch out and grow as musicians and as a band,” he says in the notes.

“When we extended a blues shuffle, for example, and transformed it with an infectious Brazilian rhythm, the audience stayed with us and even pushed us to take it to the next level,” he said.

Hooper, an Ohio native who went to Berklee and is now based in the Boston area, recorded the six-track disc in one day, in Shanghai - a city where his band performed six nights a week at a club called the House of Blues & Jazz. (Owned by a Chinese actor, not Dan Aykroyd and friends.)

Hooper, who does all lead vocals, and plays lead and rhythm guitar, describes the disc as a celebration of the bandís 2004 tour of China and Japan.

Like I said, itís not a blues album. Hooper fuses jazz, soul, rock, and funk with a smidgen of blues, although the first track, “You Heard Me Crying,” a tight Hooper original full of fast and furious guitar licks, and jazz chords, qualifies. Itís the best song on the disc.

The musicianship makes the album worth listening to.

The second track, “Celtic Blues” by Scotsman Gordon Stevenson, the co-producer, is somewhat funky-bluesy, although, again, leaning toward a jazz sound.

However, Hooper has also included “Under My Thumb” by the Stones, and “All Along the Watchtower” by Dylan, although Hooperís version is more Hendrix-like, and Jimi is obviously one of his influences.

Hooper has a fine voice, perfectly hitting some difficult, dissonant, notes. Heís never off key. His guitar playing is impressive, as is the drumming of Akira Nakamura, something one doesnít usually notice right away. The bass and backup vocals are handled nicely by Jordan Scannella.

Another Hooper original, “Leaving Me Too,” is a slow, jazzy love song that would make nice background music for an upscale party, in, say, Manhattan or Philadelphiaís Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.

“Lick the Bowl” also by Hooper, has sexual references couched in dining terms. (I think.) Either way, it whets the appetite “Pancakes in the morning just canít be bad/Butter and Log Cabin, just spread them on.” He also mentions leg of lamb, sweet potato pie, oxtail soup and cornbread, whipped cream on pudding, and so on: “Give my your gravy/ Stir it up baby, smooth out the lumps.” As Rachel Ray would say, itís “yummo.”

His version of “Under My Thumb” pretty much sticks to Jagger and Richardsí 60s hit, meaning, itís still misogynistic. The guitar solo redeems it.

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