Mandolin has a long, if obscure, history with the blues. Some may know blues mandolin from Jim Schwall's work with the Siegel-Schwall Band in the mid-'60s, or be familiar with long gone Chicago legends Yank Rachell and Johnny Young, but today blues mandolin retains its aura of mystery. Gerry Hundt, part of the Nick Moss/Blue Bella gang, hopes to change all that. Hundt is a versatile bluesman, adept on bass, guitar, and harmonica, as well as mandolin, but Since Way Back it's all about the mandolin. The set includes both full band outings and piano/mandolin duets in the style of the Johnny Young/Otis Spann classic "Keep Your Nose Out of My Business." The most remarkable thing about Hundt's playing here is how he avoids the obvious temptation to play in the style of the older generation to follow his own path. Hundt's style is as country as it is Chicago, with a laid-back feel on the mandolin that's complemented by his aggressive vocal attack. Backed by Flip Tops Nick Moss on bass and acoustic guitar, Willie O'Shawny on piano, and drummer Bob Carter as well as lead guitarist Josh Stimmel, and Barrelhouse Chuck on, what else, piano, Hundt provides a primer of his own style of mandolin blues. On "Since Way Back" he tunes the mandolin Rachell style, with the fourth string tuned down a step or two. Bill Lupkin's forceful harmonica complements the big, chiming sound of Hundt's mandolin. "That Woman!" is an instrumental that gives the ensemble time to stretch out and features impressive solo work by Stimmel, Lupkin, O'Shawny, who is particularly impressive, and Hundt, who moves between slurred notes, rippling arpeggios, and single-note runs. "Burning Fire," an Otis Spann tune, gets a soulful reworking as a duet with O'Shawny's smoky piano; Hundt delivers a smoldering vocal and more sterling work on mandolin. "You're the One" has a loose, Jimmy Rogers-style groove and a nonchalant vocal by Hundt. "Trying Hard" has a Howlin' Wolf feel and builds steam with Hundt and Lupkin delivering solos that slowly move from relaxed to incendiary. The instrumental duet with Barrelhouse Chuck on "End of the Bay Blues" demonstrates how two pros can create a remarkably full sound. Hundt's mandolin dances in and around Chuck's slow, left hand bass pulse, and his frenetic, rippling right hand, and closes the piece with the pair playing undulating harmonic runs in unison. The cover art is a riff on the classic Blue Note album art of the early '60s, and gives the package a hip, retro feel.
Since Way Back Review