Mark Hummel – Wayback Machine | Album Review

Mark Hummel – Wayback Machine

Electro-Fi Records -2020

16 tracks; 59 minutes

Harmonica player Mark Hummel is perhaps best known for his Blues Harmonica Blowout shows where he tours with an assembly of great harp players. Over the years he has been fairly prolific under his own name and his last release Harpbreaker (Electro-Fi 2018) took a look back at his career to date. On this latest album he goes a step further by producing a disc that harks back to the 1930s/40s, especially the Bluebird label, with songs by the likes of Tampa Red, Sonny Boy Williamson I and Jazz Gillum. With the aim of creating a ‘rural feel’ and to add authenticity to the project, Mark used The Deep Basement Shakers (Aaron Hoffman, piano, Dave Eagle,  washboard/percussion) with Kid Andersen on bass and Billy Flynn on guitar. Drums are absent apart from on one track where Alex Pettersen sits in and there are guest appearances by Rusty Zinn (guitar on one track) and Joe Beard (guitar/vocals on three tracks); bassist R.W. Grigsby plays on one track that is his own composition.

The album opens with R.W. Grigsby’s “Flim Flam” which sounds like a thinly disguised dig at the current incumbent of The White House. There is strong harp over our first encounter with the piano/washboard backing, Rusty Zinn also involved on guitar. Mark contributes two originals of his own: “Road Dog” is an autobiographical account of the life of a touring musician, Mark concluding that he won’t find life on Easy Street but will just keep moving; “Say You Will” is a solo acoustic guitar piece sung by Joe Beard. In the sleeve notes Mark describes how Joe met Son House when Son moved to Rochester, NY, introducing himself when he heard Joe playing on his front porch. Joe’s other two tracks are covers of Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years” and Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco”.

The rest of the album is made up of the classic music of the era under scrutiny, starting with a fine version of “Hello Stranger”, a 1953 tune by Baby Boy Warren, and definitely well before politically correct considerations: “Mattie Mae is five foot two, hips are kinda wide. She ain’t no great big woman, she’s just on the heavy side. Hello stranger, sure do remind me of Mattie Mae; should you ever need a favour call on Baby Boy right away.” We get three Sonny Boy 1 (John Lee Williamson) tunes: “Reefer Head Woman”, “Good Gal” and “Cut That Out”, the latter having been covered so well by Pinetop Perkins and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith on their Grammy winning album Joined At The Hip. Mark’s version returns the song to its country blues roots and is one of the standout tracks here. Other artists to get covered more than once include Tampa Red (the almost inevitable “Play With Your Poodle” and “So Much Trouble”) and Jazz Gillum (“Gillum’s Windy Blues” and “Crazy About You”), the former with some nice, jazz-inflected guitar from Billy, the latter having quite a ragtime feel to it as well as featuring Dave’s percussion in a sort of ‘percussion solo’. Aaron takes over the vocals on “Rag Mama Rag” (Blind Boy Fuller, not The Band!) with just harp, piano, washboard and assorted whistles, etc from Dave.

This is yet another fine release recorded at Kid’s Greaseland Studio in San José, CA. Fans of straight-ahead acoustic harmonica and country blues will appreciate the authenticity and feel of this album and the absence of drums or extended guitar solos is a refreshing change from much of what is being produced at present.

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