Albert Cummings – Believe
Provogue/Mascot Label Group PRD 76070 2
11 songs – 44 minutes
Guitar master Albert Cummings fires out of the gate on his debut release for Provogue Records, a dramatic, stylish change of pace that seamlessly blends blues, rock and country in a set recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines at a site where some of the most iconic and soulful music of the ‘60s and ‘70s – Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and dozens more — was brought to life, Cummings ventures out of his usual power-blues comfort zone to incorporate deep-in-the-pocket horns and backup singers to deliver what’s without a doubt his most well-rounded album yet.
A childhood banjo player who grew up in New England and whose first love was bluegrass, Albert’s come a long way since developing a passion for the blues and guitar after attending a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert while in college. After performing for the first time in public at age 27, he formed the band Swamp Yankee and soon developed a major following, thanks in part through his association with the Northeast Blues Society and the attention he received from Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, Vaughan’s partners in Double Trouble, who produced and appeared on his debut album, From the Heart, in 2001.
He star ascended quickly after B.B. King invited him to tour as his opening act, and he enjoyed a lengthy relationship with Blind Pig Records, which issued four of his CDs between 2004 and 2015, a period during which he also self-produced the blues-rock album, No Regrets, which displayed his fretwork in another light. Cummings’ most recent effort, the self-released Live at the ’62 Center, garnered a Blues Music Association nomination in the same category.
Cummings is backed here by Dave Smith and Justin Holder on bass and percussion and Clayton Ivy, the keyboard player featured on Aretha’s “Never Loved a Man” and other chart-toppers. They’re augmented by Ken Waters on sax and Brad Guin on trumpet with Kimberlie Helton and Trinecia Butler providing backing vocals. Rounding out the sound is Brad Kuhn who sits in on keys for a single cut.
A collection of six originals and five covers, the set opens with a traditional take on the Isaac Hayes-David Porter classic, “Hold On,” which provides Albert space to allow his vocal skills to shine before a stinging, well-modulated guitar solo mid-tune. The horn-backed, original Southern rocker “Do What Mama Says” flows effortlessly to follow as it urges listeners to “Say somethin’ nice or nothin’ at all/The bigger they are the harder they fall.”
Cummings’ take on Willie Dixon’s “Red Rooster” leaves the horns behind for a slow-and-steady taste of Chicago blues chockful of tasty, inventive fretwork before the full band’s back for the medium-fast shuffle, “Queen of Mean,” which warns that “If you see her comin’/You’d better hide” because one glance from her will turn you to stone.
The tender ballad, “Crazy Love,” a 1970 hit for Van Morrison, provides a sweet change-of-pace before things heat up again with “Get Out of Here,” a Southern rocker with a percussive beat, in which Cummings drops in to a favorite tavern and spots his ex-lady across the room. Quickly overcome by painful memories, he starts tearing up and knows it’s time to go. The agony comes through loud and clear in the closing guitar solo.
“My Babe” — the Dixon-penned Little Walter classic — receives an interesting, stop-time rearrangement and country feel and twang before the uptempo shuffle “It’s All Good” sings praise for working hard and maintaining an upbeat attitude no matter what comes your way, a message that continues in the loping “Going My Way,” which notes that “It’s been a long, hard journey/But I can finally reap what I sowed.”
Built atop a steady, bluesy guitar hook, “Call Me Crazy” warns that Albert’s not as nuts as a rival might think before the action closes with a cover of “Me and My Guitar,” a tune written by Leon Russell but a staple for Freddie King.
Available through most major retailers, Believe is a winner from the jump. Like Cummings states above, the seeds he planted in his travels during the past 20 years will pay off big with this one!