Album Details

April 29, 2008
Collectors' Choice Music
Pop/Rock, Rock & Roll

Album Review

This Collectors' Choice two-fer combines two albums that rounded up a bunch of Ronnie Hawkins' sessions for Roulette from 1959-1963: the 1967 Canadian LP Mojo Man and the 1970 LP Arkansas Rockpile. Mojo Man feels a little uneven -- after all, it captures a time when Hawkins was trying a little bit of everything to reach the charts. None of his successful attempts are here, at least as far as the American charts are concerned, so this winds up being a sampler of styles from the Hawk. Much of this is firmly within the roadhouse rock & roll that is his specialty, opening up with a ripping version of Carl Perkins' "Matchbox," followed up quickly by a down-n-dirty grind on "Suzie Q" that rivals Dale Hawkins' original. These, along with "Mojo Man," a fine spin on "Further Up the Road," and a terrific slow-blues grind called "What a Party" -- a sterling showcase for the Hawks, whose Robbie Robertson cranks out some clenched, thrilling guitar goaded on by a vocally appreciative Ronnie, who sure sounds like the forefather to Levon Helm's singing here -- are Ronnie Hawkins at his best. Elsewhere, when the tempo mellows down a bit, things get bumpier: Hawkins doesn't seem comfortable crooning the puppy love sentiments of "One Out of a Hundred," the version of "Your Cheatin' Heart" is a bit too mawkish and the anti-death penalty folk tune "The Ballad of Caryl Chessman" doesn't quite suit him. Hawkins could indeed do slower tunes, as "Lonely Hours" -- a good song that flirts with Ricky Nelson "Lonesome Town" territory makes clear -- but the problem here is that Hawkins and Roulette weren't quite sure how to get him on the charts, so they tried everything, even the stuff that didn't suit him...and then when it came time to compile Mojo Man, they threw it all together at random. There's some great stuff here, but there's a lot of not-so-great stuff, too, enough to keep this primarily of interest for serious rockers only. Arkansas Rockpile is markedly better as there was actually some rhyme and reason behind the assembly of Arkansas Rockpile. It concentrates on some of the Hawks' hardest rockers, including "Mary Lou" and "Thirty Days," the Chuck Berry song that he took into the Top 50 re-recorded as "Forty Days." To these two hits add no less than three Bo Diddley songs -- "Say Boss Man," "Bo Diddley," and "Who Do You Love?," the latter in a version so ferocious it turned into a signature (he later revived this arrangement almost exactly on the Band's The Last Waltz, but the Hawks sound meaner here) -- the frenzied, nutty "Horace," a slow blues shuffle "Come Love," the easy-grooving "Arkansas," and "Odessa," a rip-roaring take on Billy Lee Riley's "My Gal Is Red Hot" and "Mojo Man" (repeated from the Mojo Man LP) and Arkansas Rockpile adds up the purest blast of rock & roll from the Hawk to be released as an LP.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Mojo Man
  2. Matchbox
  3. Lonely Hours
  4. Summertime
  5. One out of a Hundred
  6. Further Up the Road
  7. Ballad of Caryl Chessman
  8. Suzy-Q
  9. Southern Love
  10. Your Cheatin' Heart
  11. What a Party
  12. Dizzy Miss Lizzie
  13. My Gal Is Red Hot
  14. Thirty Days
  15. Mary Lou
  16. Odessa
  17. Horace
  18. Who Do You Love?
  19. Come Love
  20. Arkansas
  21. Say Boss Man
  22. Mojo Man
  23. Bo Diddley