Saturday, July 22, 2017

Looking back at John Hammond on Vanguard and Pointblank

John Hammond
Verve & Pointblank Releases
Verve / Pointblank

Jerry Wexler writes in the notes to John Hammond’s new Pointblank release Trouble No More that Hammond is the greatest roots blues practitioner of this generation and Hammond sings “the deep and natural blues like some blind man on the corner in Opelousas, Louisiana.” Despite Jerry Wexler’s renown as a producer and recording industry mogul, the latter statement will provoke disagreement among some who find Hammond often sounding as if he is trying to sound like a street singer. Regardless of Hammond’s dedication to the blues, his vocals are inconsistent, and some will find him on occasion, irritably contrived, particularly when he tries to sing tough like Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters. Admittedly he can be engaging when singing in an unforced manner. 

Vanguard has compiled a useful cross-section of his work for that label that dates from the sixties forward, You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover. After an awful vocal on the title track, this reviewer almost didn’t listen to the rest. While his choked vocal also sounds forced on Muddy Waters’ I Can’t Be Satisfied, he is convincing on Leroy Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues, which also sports solid guitar by the late Billy Butler, and the still active Jimmy Spruill (active when review was originally written and published). While some will find the presence of Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman and the Hawks (better known as The Band), of interest, there is no electric guitar playing here that tops Butler and Spruill. Those who like Hammond’s vocals will have no reservations about this, and for others, like this reviewer, this does provide a useful sampling and there are a number of engaging performances here. 

Hammond’s backing on Trouble No More. on Pointblank includes Little Charlie and the Nitecats on several songs, slide guitarist Roy Rogers on others, and Charles Brown’s piano and Danny Caron’s guitar are on renditions of Brown’s Trouble Blues and Fool’s Paradise. Hammond’s singing is more relaxed here, although occasionally coming across as mannered. He continues to exhibit an eclectic repertoire and his rendition of That Nasty Swing has a bit of Jimmy Rodgers flavor, although Hammond doesn’t attempt a blue yodel. The album’s highpoint is a nice, wistful version of Blind Willie McTell’s Love Changin’ Blues. Trouble Blues is a credible remake, of a Charles Brown classic but Hammond is overshadowed by Brown’s kinetic accompaniment. However, Hammond has produced an engaging and likable release for the Pointblank. 

I likely received review copies from the record companies. This review originally appeared in the April 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190). One may have to purchase theses used or as downloads, although their are other collections of Hammond's Vanguard recordings available. Here is Hammond doing Fool's Paradise from the Trouble No More CD.

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