John Hammond, Jr.


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John Hammond, Jr., whose fascination with country blues has informed his whole 50-year performing career, has always had a style that made him sound like a lifetime New Yorker imitating a rustic Southern blues singer (rather than actually being a rustic Southern blues singer), but while that style hasn't changed one bit, the times have, and Hammond is now just about the last surviving link to that tradition, a man whose imitative and reverential approach to the country blues now makes him more like a living, breathing history lesson than a just an overly fervent facsimile. Again, although Hammond has been a gritty and dynamic acoustic guitarist since the start, and has also become adept at filling out his sound with blasts on his rack harmonica, what puts him over is his powerful and passionate delivery, and the fact that there is hardly anywhere else to hear this sort of thing anymore. This live set, which was recorded at Chan's in Woonsocket, Rhode Island (a venue Hammond has played several times before) on May 4, 2013, features Hammond at his best, working solo with just a guitar, slide, and harmonica. He blasts his way through a pair of Tom Waits songs, the opening "No One Can Forgive Me But My Baby" and a version of "Jockey Full of Bourbon," turns in a spirited performance of Bobby Bland's "Further on Up the Road," pulls out the slide for a gutsy run-through of Elmore James' "The Sky Is Crying," and does what he's always done to country blues classics like Sleepy John Estes' "Drop Down Mama." There's also a Hammond original here, "Heartache Blues," although preserving the country blues as a performing art form is more up Hammond's alley than creating new blues compositions, and thankfully that is still his focus, even after some 50 years. The country blues got a hold of Hammond a long time ago and never let go, and Hammond never let go, either. There are a lot worse fates.

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