Hubert Sumlin - About Them Shoes
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 8, 2005
Review by Tony BonyataIt's no surprise to find such a cast of musical luminaries on Hubert Sumlin's latest album About Them Shoes. After all, the 73 year-old blues musician not only played with Howlin' Wolf as his lead guitarist for twenty-five years and also in Muddy Waters' band for a little under a year, but rock guitar legends from Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards have all cited Sumlin as a major influence on their work (Sumlin was also recently included in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists).
About Them Shoes is Sumlin's rousing tribute to his former boss, Muddy Waters; with seven songs written by Waters, four by Willie Dixon (penned for Waters) and one from Sumlin himself. Produced by Rob Fraboni (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley), the blues guitarist is joined here by many of the artists that he influenced earlier in his career, such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, the New York Dolls' David Johansen, The Band's Levon Helm and guitarist Bob Margolin
The tone of the album is immediately set in motion with the swaggering electric blues of the opening track "I'm Ready," featuring Clapton not only trading off stinging leads with Sumlin but also delivering some of the most guttural barrelhouse vocals of his career. The roof is further lifted by Johansen's deep nicotine-stained moans on the number "Walkin' Through the Park," along with "She's Into Something" featuring Sumlin's childhood friend and blues great James Cotton on harmonica.
The songs that best represent this album, however, are the deep blues that conjure up the Delta south where both Waters and Sumlin were raised (Waters is from Rolling Fork, MS and Sumlin from Greenwood, MS). "Iodine In My Coffee" and "Evil" are both heavily laced with hypnotic slow grooves, while Keith Richards delivers a spooky hoodoo lead guitar over his own best vocal impression of Waters' deep growl on "Still a Fool." Although Richards also adds guitar to the sparse blues number "Little Girl, This Is the End," it's Sumlin who shines with his own earthy guitar and sour mash voice on this stripped-down slice of country blues.
Clapton may be the one who howls, "I'm drinking TNT and smoking dynamite" early on during this album, but it's actually Hubert Sumlin who proves to be the powder keg on this engaging tribute to one of the true greats of the blues.
Hubert Sumlin will be performing Saturday, February 12 at Park West, 322 W. Armitage, Chicago, IL. (773) 929-5959
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