Dov Hammer – BlueSoul
11 songs – 41 minutes
Born in Akron, Ohio, but based in Israel for decades, Dov Hammer rules the roost as the top blues harp player in the Middle East. This is his first self-titled release in 15 years, and definitely worth the wait as it delivers a mix of traditional and modern sounds and tunes that cover everything from straight-ahead Chicago blues to New Orleans funk.
Heavily influenced by West Coast blues harp legend Paul deLay and Mississippi-born soul-blues singer King Ernest Baker and now in his early 50s, Hammer is a stellar entertainer who was a 2005 International Blues Challenge semi-finalist. His family relocated to Tel Aviv when he was a child and he fell in love with the blues because of his sister’s affection for John Lee Hooker.
The Israeli blues community was still in its infancy when he hooked up in 1990 with another ex-pat, guitarist Ted Cooper, whose band is credited with laying the groundwork for the scene that flourishes today. Dov subsequently joined the reggae/funk band Kaya for a couple of years before finishing the ‘90s with Damesek Eliezer Blues Band and The Daily Blues. For most of the 2000s, he was one half of CG & The Hammer, an IBC competitor. Most recently, he’s fronted The Blues Rebels, occasionally visiting Chicago, where he’s worked with several top artists.
Pierre Lacocque, the harmonica player who founded the Windy City band Mississippi Heat, is one fan. “This is not a player who relies on repeating previously recorded licked by other masters,” he says. “He has his own signature sound.”
Recorded in Israel in multiple formats and produced with assistance from Acum’s Social & Cultural Fund, BlueSoul is Hammer’s tenth CD, but only his second solo effort following Going Deep in 2004. The lineup includes Gil Katzir, Yair Fine, Assaf Rosov, Danny Manor and Ori Beanstock on guitar, Kfir Tzairi on keyboards, Amos Springer and Oren Laor on bass, Nir Segal, Shlomo Deshet and Tzafrir Lichtenstein on percussion with Naomi Jo Hammer on backing vocals. Amir Hacoben sits in on multiple uncredited instruments for one cut.
The all-original set opens with a simple harp run before launching into the loping shuffle “Make It Count,” which states that Dov’s putting 100 per cent into whatever he does. He’s a strong baritone whose timing, like his harp play, is slightly behind the beat, propelling everything forward. And the band is top notch throughout. The sprightly “I’m Gone” opens with a funky regimental beat as Hammer insists that it’s time to “stop reading the news/Gotta get back to the blues/Before anyone sees that I’m gone.”
The slow-and-steady “Find a Way” is an interesting number in which Dov states that he’s got to get a handle on his temper and praises his lady for remaining at his side, an appreciation that continues in the uptempo “Magic.” Their relationship “feels so right/It feels so wrong/And it feels insane.” Up next, however, “Bad Luck Charm” finds Hammer wondering if the lady’s cursed and wishing he’d never met her at all. It comes across with an easy, breezy feel reminiscent of Rick Estrin.
The theme continues with the stripped-down ballad “The Fighting Blues,” which finds the singer ready to battle back from despair, while “Tear It Down” announces atop a rapid shuffle that he’s ready to start all over again. Dedicated to King Ernest and featuring Rosov on shared vocal, the sweet ballad “King” describes the deep influence Baker still has on Hammer’s life two decades after his passing.
The straight-ahead “Dance the Blues” gives Dov space to vocally accompanied only by Fine on slide guitar, before the percussive “Taking My Time” allows room for his harmonica skills to come to the fore. The title tune, “BlueSoul,” brings the disc to a close with an extended rap that deals with being a member of what Hammer terms the “wilderness generation.”
If you think all great bluesmen have to be based in the U.S., listen to this. Simply stated, Dov Hammer is one tasty, albeit understated, harp player and songwriter who can hold his own with anyone. BlueSoul is modern blues at its best. Available from Apple Music and several other vendors.