By the time these original recordings were completed, early-to-late 1990s, the late John Lee Hooker was comfortably in Elder Statesman (Statesperson?) Status. Somebody at the record label, or maybe even Hooker himself, figured the way to sell more discs was to record JLH with younger and more popular admirers/acolytes and as long as the results are good, what’s wrong with that? (Heaven forbid an Artist should stoop so low as to.... sell well.)
In the case of the recently remastered ‘n’ spruced-up compellation The Best Of Friends, the cherry-picked results are mostly BOSS (excellent). Most of the songs are Hooker classics/hits/old faves, so there’s a virtually familial, comforting aspect to the performances. Nobody sounds like they’re trying to "dazzle" the listener though everyone plays at or near the top of their game.
Highlights include the duet with Bonnie Raitt ("I’m In The Mood"), some balm-like Hammond organ, Charlie Musselwhite’s rippling, chocolate-rich harmonica and the two duets with Van Morrison. Another great aspect of these recordings is the production. It avoids the beer-commercial slickness afflicting some modern blues while at the same time bypassing trying to turn back the clock with intentionally rough recording quality (what the young people call "lo-fi").
Oh, purists may balk ("this is hardly the best Hooker on the market" duh), but JLH is fine voice, the versions of these songs are spirited, and when the band(s) stretch out, they know when to reign it in. And for those owning the original version of this (on Virgin Records), there’s a bonus tune and a snazzy remastering job. Hooker fans, Hooker novices and blues neophytes: Dig in.