Sunday, April 05, 2009

Mark Hummel's Rocking Blues Parties

Mark Hummel has been playing the blues for decades and with his Blues Survivors, has shared the stages as well as backed numerous blues legends. In more recent years, he has been known for his tours of Blues Harmonica Blowouts, with recent tours being documented on disc on compilations on the Mountain top label. Now we have the good fortune to have new new compilations that go back to the vaults that help celebrate the blues. Electro-Fi, Hummel's current label has just issued Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowouts, subtitled "'Still Here and Gone' 1993-2007," while Mountain Top has released Mark Hummel's Chicago Blues Party subtitled "Recorded Live! 1980-1992."

For those who are fans of the Blues Harmonica Blowouts, the new double disc collects recordings by a variety of highly regarded players, some who are no longer with us. The focus on harp allows the presence of Magic Dick whose vocal talents nowhere approach his instrumental skills, as well as the brilliant Lee Oskar, who turns in a stunning instrumental rendition of Duke Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood. Hummel turns in his usual solid playing, rooted in the classic playing of Little Walter and Big Walter (a nice rendition of Hard Hearted Woman, along with the set's closing Summertime). There are nice representative performances from Lazy Lester, Sugar Coated Love; Carey Bell, I Got to Go; Billy Boy Arnold, Sugar Gal; Johnny Dyer, and Rick Estrin. Of special note are performances by several not with us: two by Paul deLay, Can't Stand Your Evil Ways; two by Sam Myers with Anson Funderburgh on guitar, especially I Done Quit Getting Sloppy Drunk; and three brilliant performances by William Clarke, including Stretch My Money and the instrumental Chrome Jumpin'. Rusty Zinn are on these selections while Junior Watson graces the James Harman and Paul deLay selections. The harp playing is high and most of the vocals are strong on a set with broad appeal.

Chicago Blues Party is even better with previously unissued performances spotlightling a number of now deceased blues legends: Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Mississippi Johnny Waters, and Luther Tucker. The disc opens with five 1992 performances by the great Jimmy rogers backed by Hummel and a band that included Rusty Zinn on guitar from Slim's in San Francisco. Over a decade and a half later it is a delight listening to Rogers redo You're the One and Ludella with Hummel's harp embellishing the vocals so well. Less familiar Rogers songs like Tricky Woman, standout along with a rendition of Jimmy Reed's Big Boss Man. The late Eddie's set lacks reworkings of some of his better known recordings like Bad Boy and Big Town Playboy. Instead he focuses on reworkings of Wolf's Smokestack Lightning, Muddy Waters' Trouble No More, and Charles Brown's Sunny Road. Despite the familiarity of the material, Taylor is in good form. On Taylor's set, Mississippi Johnny Waters is on rhythm guitar and takes the lead vocal as well as plays some strong slide guitar for Dust My Broom. Waters, real name Johnny Sandifer, was a strong traditionally oriented Mississippi bluesman who Hummel played with for several years from 1977 on and there are two performances by Waters with guitarist Sonny Lane from the 1980 San Francisco Blues Festival including solid renditions of Wolf's Shake For Me and J.B. Lenoir's How Much More Long. These performances display strong vocals backed by a tight rocking band playing classic Chicago blues. The fact Waters recorded so little makes these especially valuable. Another 1985 Waters performance, a rendition of Long Distance Call, has Luther Tucker on guitar. Tucker himself is featured on two 1994 performances with Hummel handling the vocal with Tucker's solo on "Blue & Lonesome," based on his solo on Little Walter's original recording, arguably being the highpoint of a terrific disc of Chicago blues. Hummel is to be thanked for making these superb performances by some departed blues masters accessible.

As I write this, the “Chicago Blues Party” set may be hard to find. Bluebeat Music, has both of these.

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