John Hammond, Jr.

Long as I Have You

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John Hammond's latest album marks a major departure in one respect -- for the first time in anyone's memory, he sings, but plays nothing on one of his records, while Little Charlie & the Nightcats, led by guitarist Charlie Baty, handle the guitars and everything else. The difference is very subtle, the playing maybe a little less flashy than Hammond's already restrained work -- think of how good Muddy Waters sounded on the early-'60s records where he sang and didn't play. And that comparison is an apt one -- even more than 35 years after he started, Hammond inevitably ends up sounding like its 1961 and he's working at Chess studios in Chicago, cutting songs between Muddy Waters sessions. Harpist Rick Estrin also contributes a smooth and eminently enjoyable original amid a brace of covers of blues standards. There is not a weak number here, and this band is a kick to listen to, sounding more naturally authentic than anybody in the 1990's has a right to (Baty's quiet pyrotechnics on "Lookin' for Trouble" would make this record worth owning, even if Hammond's singing and the rest of the songs weren't as good as they are). And the songs include numbers by Howlin' Wolf, Eddie Taylor, Little Walter, Rice Miller, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Willie Dixon. And as a bonus, we get Hammond playing and singing on three unplugged acoustic tracks, accompanied by a washboard, where he shows off his still-formidable country blues sound, whetting the appetite for more like this.

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