12 songs – 68 minutes
The Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans is home to the Louisiana Historical Center, one of America’s great archives, particularly for colonial-era manuscripts and maps. It also houses the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Ron Hacker took a job booking acts at the Old U.S. Mint in 2015 and, as he drily notes on his CD sleeve notes: “I was told I could book myself also, and that they liked to do residencies, so I booked three nights. Seemed like a good way to introduce myself to New Orleans.” The result is Hacker’s new CD, his eleventh release, Live At The Old U.S. Mint, which contains songs recorded on each of the three nights.
Hacker sings with a ragged, husky voice that suits his material perfectly and plays powerful, muscular guitar. On each of the three nights, he was accompanied by different musicians. The first set, recorded on 01 April 2016, features Johnny Sansone on harmonica and accordion, Kennan Shaw on bass, Tony D’alessandro on drums. Opening with the traditional “Broke & Hungry”, arranged by Hacker as almost a one-chord stomp with just a hint of chord changes, the sound is closer to the early electric blues of Chicago than the lazy, fluid sound more commonly associated with Louisiana. Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go” is another nod towards early Chicago blues with some lovely swooping harp from Sansone who then picks up his accordion for the jumping “Keep Your Hands Off Her” which adds a distinctly Louisiana feel to the song. Likewise, the presence of the accordion on Willie Dixon’s “Evil” gives the song an entirely different flavor from previous versions.
The second set, from 22 April 2016, sees Hacker backed again by Shaw and D’alessandro, this time with John Fohl on guitar and Nancy Wright on saxophone. “Miss You Like The Devil” is played with a harder edge than Slim Harpo’s original classic while Hacker’s own elemental “My Bad Boy” features some vicious slide guitar and fine interplay between Hacker and Fohl.
One of the album highlights is the bare reading of “It Hurts Me Too”, with Wright’s aching sax to the fore, more duelling guitars and lovely support from Shaw and D’alessandro. As a young man, Hacker studied with Yank Rachell and he pays tribute to Rachell’s old partner Sleepy John Estes with a raucous rendition of “Goin’ To Brownsville”.
Hacker is backed in the third set by Jason Ricci on harp, Steve Ehrmann on bass and Kevin Hayes on drums. The combo blaze through the old Jimmy Rogers gem “I’m Goin’ Away Baby”, Estes’ “Ax Sweet Mama” (with more top notch slide from Hacker) and two Hacker originals. One of the Hacker songs, “Sing Like Elmore James” features some very Elmore-esque slide guitar even if Hacker can’t actually fulfil his stated wish to sing like James (then again, who can?). Ricci pulls out a particularly powerful solo as the band lays back on the classic 12 bar structure.
The closing track, “Two Timin’ Woman”, is the only song to include a spoken introduction (aside from the three announcements by Rafael Dobard announcing the date of each set), which is perhaps a shame because he clearly has a knack for story-telling and a good line in self-deprecating humour.
Live At The Old U.S. Mint is a very enjoyable release from Ron Hacker. It captures the excitement and rawness of a live show whilst retaining excellent sound quality. Good stuff.