John Hammond - Rough & Tough
15 songs; 58:33 minutes; Library Quality
Style: Delta Blues; Country Blues recorded onto Audiophile SACD and CD
And, the winner .... for "Lifetime Achievement of Preserving the Blues" ....is.... John Hammond! We have the winner, now we just need for some awards show to add this category.
Consider Hammondís Blues pedigree:
* He has introduced newcomers for 47 years to past performers, making fans for many legends like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.
* Hammond is one of handful of white blues musicians who was on the scene at the beginning of the first Delta Blues renaissance of the middle 1960s.
* He has preserved not only memories of artists, but classic Blues songs have been kept alive, too.
* At age 67, he has just released his 49th recording, his 35th album. His self titled debut vinyl album came in 1962.
* By the time he was just 20 years old, he had been interviewed for the New York Times before one of his East Coast festival performances, and he was a certified national act.
* Born November 13, 1942, in New York City, heís the son of the famous Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond, Sr.
* He is a solo Bluesman, and a multi-dimensional artist who continues to tour and record steadily.
What can be written about him that hasnít already been said over almost five decades? Perhaps, most apropos, then, are just some fan accolades:
His latest, "Rough & Tough," is a stripped-down, solo acoustic session recapitulating the timeless one-Blues-man-and-his-guitar (plus harmonica on a neck rack). No overdubs, no compressors, no multi-tracking, and no large mixing consoles! He plays National Steel, Guild 12-String, and Stubbs 6-String guitars.
It took me about three listens to the CD to more full appreciate his no-backup-band performance this time. Hammondís playing is so rough and raw that I had to adjust to shrill harmonica notes bent to the point of breaking, his virtual, often ferocious, attack on the guitar and slide, and his foot-stomping rhythm section. This isnít a mellow, laid back performance; this is a Saturday night, 1930s house party, no electric instruments available, throw down! Included are songs written by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Blind Willie McTell, Little Walter, Jerry McCain, Tampa Red, and Tom Waits among others, as well as two of his own.
Songs that I enjoyed in particular are Muddy Watersí "I Canít Be Satisfied," Tampa Redís "It Hurts Me Too" (Yes, Hudson Whittaker, not Elmore James, wrote it), Jerry McCainís "Sheís Tough," his surprising version of "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and Tom Waitsí "Get Behind the Mule."
In some ways, this new release goes back to the first recording Hammond did with Vanguard Records nearly 50 years ago. By now however, he attacks the guitar and harp with more confidant abandon, and his deep vocals and expression and craggy facial lines have been earned through the years.
This CD is worthy of inclusion in oneís Blues library for many reasons, not the least of which is how it was recorded as both a CD and Super Audio CD by famed Grammy Award-winning independent audiophile label, Chesky Records. Their philosophy is simple: to create the illusion of live musicians in a real three-dimensional space, which is never a studio! Chesky Records used the most advanced, custom made, electronics available and careful single-point microphone placement in St. Peterís Church in New York City, sans an audience. "This recording is not unlike a live show that I would do except that there was no live audience to perform for," said Hammond. "Itís been a while since Iíve had a solo album out, so Iím very happy with it."
For fans of John Hammond, getting this special SACD and CD is a given. For newcomers and the curious, this just might be the one to start your collection. Honor this man for what he has done, but remember, this is how he still makes his living every single day.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Thursdays from 7 - 8 pm and Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL
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