Mark Hummel

Ain't Easy No More

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Oakland, CA, harmonica wizard Mark Hummel's first love is Chicago blues, and on Ain't Easy No More, the venerable bandleader's tenth album, he blows classic tunes from Windy City blues stalwarts Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Eddie Boyd, and adds his own inspired embellishment to the tradition on the originals "I Didn't Need Another Heartache" and "So Glad." His roaring, purring harp is a force of nature, and he can hold his own with James Cotton, Junior Wells, and other Chicago harp legends. But Hummel is also a restless blues synthesist, and the early jump blues of Ray Charles ("Get on the Right Track") and the New Orleans second line parade (the politically charged, righteously indignant title track) are handled equally adeptly. He's a monster harp player with an obvious passion for the music, and his band kicks up a righteous, rowdy fuss behind him. Unfortunately, he's only a mediocre singer, and these songs are marred by tepid vocals that accompany the white-hot music. Predictably, "Harpoventilating," a Hummel original and the set's only instrumental, is the standout track. It adds up to a solid if unspectacular effort.

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