COURTESY JESSICA CHOMESKY / BACK PORCH
John Hammond's journey leads him to G. Love and a CD of 'Shove' songs
John Hammond Jr. is the real deal when it comes to the blues.
"Push Comes to Shove"
Never mind that he came to it secondhand as the son of a privileged talent scout and producer for Columbia Records, or that he started as someone who performed in the style of classic country blues singers during the folk/blues renaissance of the mid-1960s.
Now at the mature age of 64, Hammond has faithfully sung and played the music long enough to acknowledge him as one of the country's foremost bluesmen. He certainly looks and sounds the part now: His voice is weathered, his guitar playing still stings and his chops on the harmonica are second to none. And he's old enough that he's influencing the next generation of like-minded performers, such as Philadelphia's G. Love, who, by the way, is a good friend of our own Jack Johnson.
G. Love has produced Hammond's latest album, which shows off the man in the best way possible, namely doing it live in the studio and recording on analog equipment to bring out the grit and warmth of the music. No digital fussiness here!
As Love mentions in the liner notes, his admiration for Hammond is due to the fact "that (he) has never 'sold out,' never lost sight of his drive and passion, a man whose foot has never stopped stomping the beats that keep him alive. As John says, 'I work 12 months a year doing these blues. I've always got a new lick, and I feel like I'm better now than I've ever been.'"
Love also guests on a couple of songs, but the core remains Hammond and his touring band: Stephen Hodges on drums, Marty Ballou on bass and Bruce Katz playing keyboards. Their names are mentioned because their side-work is integral to Hammond's repertoire of originals and well-chosen covers.
There are a couple of forays into the city, namely Chicago blues, as the guys shake off the dust on such harp-driven classics as Junior Wells' "Come On in This House" and Little Walter's "Everything Gonna Be Alright." G. Love joins the band on the spirited, workmanlike "I'm Tore Down" and even contributes a tune of his own, "Butter," a righteously sexual ode to a favorite female that's pushed along by Katz's organ solo ... on the B-3, that is!
But don't forget that Hammond's the star of the show, and his rough-hewn presence really shines on the album's inspirational title track and "Heartache Blues," an acoustic duet with Katz that is basic and as real as the "lowdown-woman-got-me-down" woes can get.
The album ends on a surprise note as Hammond and company successfully channel the boho spirit of Tom Waits by grinding their way through the man's boozy sing-along "Cold Water." It's a survivor song, one well suited to a man who just won't quit. And thank God for that.