John Hammond, Jr.

So Many Roads

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So Many Roads is Hammond's most notable mid-'60s Vanguard album, due not so much to Hammond's own singing and playing (though he's up to the task) as the yet-to-be-famous backing musicians. Three future members of the Band -- Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, and Levon Helm -- are among the supporting cast, along with Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, and Mike Bloomfield also contributes. It's one of the first fully realized blues-rock albums, although it's not in the same league as the best efforts of the era by the likes of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band or John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. In part that's because the repertoire is so heavy on familiar Chicago blues classics by the likes of Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, and Muddy Waters; in part that's because the interpretations are so reverent and close to the originals in arrangement; and in part it's also because Hammond's blues vocals were only okay. Revisionist critics thus tend to downgrade the record a notch. But in the context of its time -- when songs like "Down in the Bottom," "Long Distance Call," "Big Boss Man," and "You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover" were not as well known as they would become -- it was a punchy, well-done set of electric blues with a rock touch.

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