John Hammond, Jr.

The Best of the Vanguard Years

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In lieu of a boxed set, the Welk Music Group (which owns the Vanguard Records library) has produced this rock-solid 23-track overview of Hammond's early recordings for Vanguard, covering highlights of the years 1963 through 1967 and his return to the label from 1976 through 1979. The tracks aren't in strict chronological order but are juxtaposed on a more general basis, and you can hear him gain confidence and maturity as this compilation chronologically moves on, from the rough-edged enthusiasm of the opener "32-20 Blues," to the closing "Guitar King." Six of the tracks are from the So Many Roads album that featured Mike Bloomfield, Charlie Musselwhite, and members of the Band in the lineup. The producers did more than remaster all of this material in 20-bit sound (though they did do that, too) -- they also raided the vaults and found a pair of unissued songs, "Ask Me Nice" and "Hellhound Blues," that they've issued here. Cut with a small, uncredited backing band, "Ask Me Nice" could have fit in easily on either Big City Blues or So Many Roads, though it's more likely associated with the former, while "Hellhound Blues" is an ominous all-acoustic number, very different in character and texture. The resulting 75 minutes of music is the best (and best sounding) overview of his work for the label, and if you're going to add some John Hammond to the collection, this is a real good place to start.

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