The Texas blues begin and end with Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Both were tremendous innovators, featuring a conversational singing style and masterful guitar work. Mance was too busy sharecropping to get to the studio before he turned fifty, but Lightnin’ had already been recording for the better part of twenty years by the time he got to Goin’ Away, at the age of 51.
He is accompanied by two jazz men, Leonard Gaskin on bass and Herbie Lovelle on drums. The result is mesmerizing, surprisingly upbeat, and something to treasure. Hopkins seems intent on making his audience smile, an unusual mission for a blues record. Indeed not all of the tracks would be classified as blues: the liner notes point to “Business You’re Doin’” as a “country Negro dance tune” and the instrumental “I’m Wit’ It” as a “boogie-woogie stomp.”
Lightnin’s spoken introduction to “Business You’re Doin’” sums up the entire album, and is worth the price of admission: “We doin’ this one in a nice way. It’s gonna be nice. It’s kinda like the old time religion, you know. We all gonna put soul in it, you know. That’s when my mother and daddy used to dance. And it’s so pretty man, it’s so pretty. Now you listen to this.”
And it is pretty-as pretty as any music these ears have heard. The title track and “Stranger Here” are flat-out classics, as fine as anything Hopkins has recorded. Check out “Goin’ Away’s” dazzling guitar work, laid down over a bass line that would feel at home on a Ben E. King ballad. There are two instrumental offerings, both in the boogie-vein, daring even the most timid soul to get up and dance.
I have never heard the original vinyl, but the quality of this JVC remastering is breathtaking. The original liner notes by jazz afficionado Dan Morgenstern are included in the package. This is as close as you’re going to get to having one of the true blues masters sitting on a stool in your listening room. I don’t know about you, but that’s also about as close as I’m going to get to heaven.