Talent with a touch of the blues
From the Winter 2003 issue.
Up Your Mind
By Ellis Hooks
Evidence Music: 2004
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Ellis Hooks certainly has the credentials to be a bluesman. He was born into a religious Mobile, Ala., family with 16 children, and didn't get his first pair of shoes until he was 8. When, at 14, he discovered more of a love for mainstream music than singing in church, his family booted him out. He hit the bricks, taking on odd jobs and hitchhiking across the country until landing in New York. There, he was reduced to working as a street entertainer. Hell, when his big break came, he needed the help of a lap-dancer to meet producer Jon Tiven. Now that's the blues.
The only problem is Hooks is no bluesman. That's apparent after hearing his American debut album, "Up Your Mind." This is a guy who has listened to a lot of radio and absorbed a variety of styles.
When he tackles such slow blues songs as "Eight Months Ago Today" and "Down for the Last Time," he feels more pain than a funereal procession. And he knows how to rock out, as evidenced on album-opener "Ridin' With Fire."
But what distinguishes Hooks is his love for classic soul and his ability to recall the likes of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett with his singing. Hooks doesn't limit his material to Southern soul, either. He ventures into O'Jays territory on "Still Waiting," and neither "Last Chance for Happiness" nor "Jessie Got Shot" would sound out of place on a soundtrack to an old Pam Grier movie, packaged between Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack.
Plus, give this guy some credit for having a hand in writing all 13 songs on the collection, along with Tiven and his wife Sally even if they did come up with what might be the first soul-blues song ever about Pablo Picasso.
Hooks may be something of a musical dilettante, but there's no escaping the blues. The highlight of the collection is a duet with guest Freddie Scott on the semi-autobiographical "Man of the Blues," complete with its acoustic slide backing.
A lot has happened for Hooks since he first met Jon Tiven, best known for producing Pickett's award-winning comeback collection, 1999's "It's Harder Now." Hooks has released an album in Europe, "Undeniable," and been invited to perform with Bonnie Raitt at the Montreaux Jazz Festival.
"Open Your Mind" has generated a lot of positive buzz. But, more important, it offers a reason to keep an eye on Hooks.
Review by Don Weiner. Don is a writer and editor based in Scottsdale, Ariz.