Lone Star Shootout

Lonnie Brooks, Long John Hunter & Phillip Walker

Alligator Records, 1999


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


On paper, the teaming of famed blues guitarists Lonnie Brooks, Long John Hunter and Phillip Walker would seem like a great idea. They all came into music in the same fashion and grew up loving the same kind of blues. And their home label, Alligator, is no stranger at putting together these special jam sessions; over a decade ago, they paired up Albert Collins, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland and Robert Cray on Showdown!, a disc released to great critical acclaim.

But the end result of this latest teaming, Lone Star Shootout, doesn't have the kind of magic that I would have expected to hear from such a project. Instead of hearing a flood of creativity and blues magic pouring out from my speakers, what ends up coming out seems like solo side projects - and I don't think that's how they intended this to turn out.

It is interesting to note that this summit of guitar players utilizes some of Antone's best-known names, such as Derek O'Brien and Marcia Ball - interesting to me because they record for a rival blues label. The cooperation, both professionally and musically, on this disc is to be admired.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If you think that each of the 15 tracks on Lone Star Shootout is going to be a showcase of all three guitarists, then you are going to be in for a great disappointment. Only three tracks - "Roll, Roll, Roll", "Bon Ton Roulet" and "It's Mighty Crazy" - feature the work of all three stars. Too bad, 'cause these moments are some of the most magical on the disc.

A good portion of the album features one of the three stars in the spotlight, while a second plays rhythm guitar or provides a running commentary (as Brooks does on "Alligators Around My Door", a track featuring Hunter on vocals and solo). What is disappointing in these tracks is that the magic one would expect, even from a limited pairing, is just not there, and these tracks, while listenable, come off sounding a bit cold and distant.

Further hampering efforts to really make this a blues tour-de-force is the introduction of a fourth member - Ervin Charles - into the trio. Now, Charles has the chops that could make him a major player in the blues scene, and I don't want to deny him his opportunity to do so. But his appearance on two cuts - one without any of the three top-billed players - seems to break up the harmony. I wouldn't have minded much had he been included in one of the tracks featuring all the players; I would have liked to have heard how he held up with the established names. Charles shall have his moment of glory; this, however, was not the time to stick him on the stage.

While most of the material on Lone Star Shootout is passable, there are a few standout numbers - and while I know I'm going to contradict what I just said one paragraph ago, one of the tracks was the Charles solo number, "Born In Louisiana". Others, like "I Met The Blues In Person" (featuring Walker on lead vocal and guitar) and "You're Playing Hooky" (a duet between Brooks and Walker) do shine forth on this disc.

Where I think Lone Star Shootout suffers is in the fact that many of these songs sound like they belong on the individual artists' solo albums. It's almost like they brought leftovers from projects and converted them into numbers that could fit in another star name. What I would have much rather heard would have been some down-and-dirty blues duels between these guitarists. Having seen Brooks perform live, I know that his chops are solid enough to hold his own in such an axe duel.

If you're a fan of any of the star performers, then you're sure to enjoy Lone Star Shootout to a point. But if you enter this expecting to have your cup overflowing with Southern blues from three of its top players, you may be disappointed that the cup isn't totally full.

Rating: B-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.