Sean Chambers – That’s What I’m Talkin’ About: Tribute to Hubert Sumlin
Quarto Valley Records QVR 0143
11 songs 44 minutes
Sean Chambers returns to his roots with this CD, a loving tribute to Hubert Sumlin, the longtime Howlin’ Wolf sideman who was both an inspiration to a generation of guitarists and also the man responsible for setting the Florida-born firebrand on the path he walks today.
A native of the Tampa Bay area who was dubbed by Britain’s Guitarist magazine as one of the top 50 blues fret masters of the 20th century, Sean drew his early inspiration from Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and their influence appears frequently in the seven albums he’s released prior to this one, beginning with his powerful debut release, Strong Temptation, in 1998.
His life changed forever in October of that year when Sumlin – who had just recovered from a bout with cancer — hired Chambers and his band to back him at the Blues Stock Festival in Memphis, a performance that went so well that they toured the world together for the next four years. And Hubert would be smiling if he could hear his protégé on this set, which reprises ten tunes tied to the legendary guitarist’s career along with a tribute to him to boot.
This disc is dedicated to Sumlin and its producer, Ben Elliot, who recorded it at his American Showplace Studios in Dover, N.J., and died unexpectedly not long after. He’d also been at the controls for Sean’s previous, well-received two releases – Trouble & Whiskey and Welcome to My Blues – both of which were released on his American Showplace Music imprint. And the title of the CD breathes new life into one of Hubert’s favorite expressions.
Chambers is backed by bassist Antar Goodman and percussionist Andrei Koribanics in a power-trio format that’s filled out by two sensational, award-winning keyboard players who are soloists in their own right: Bruce Katz, who first made a name for himself as a member of Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, and John Ginty, whose diverse resume spans blues, rock, hip-hop and country, too.
The Sumlin original instrumental, “Chunky,” opens the action with Sean sticking pretty close to Hubert’s original arrangement while heating things up a bit with 21st century flair, both through his fretwork and Katz’s fiery work on the keys. “Do the Do,” the first of four tunes from Wolf’s catalog penned by Willie Dixon, gets new life to follow because of Chambers’ gritty voice and powerful attack on slide – something that continues in “Rockin’ Daddy,” a number that was co-written by Sumlin and Wolf and borrows verses from other tunes of the era.
St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Goin’ Down Slow” is one of the most frequently recorded blues songs ever, but takes on a different feel as Sean remains faithful to the genre, but attacks it with the same zest that Paul Kossoff did with the rockers Free half a century ago. It’s followed by three more entries from the Wolf songbook — “Hidden Charms,” “Forty-Four” and “Taildragger” – before Chambers’ “Hubert’s Song” recounts their time together and thanks Sumlin for all the lessons he received.
“Sittin’ on Top of the World” – a tune penned by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon and first recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930 – and “Howlin’ for My Darlin’” both feature Ginty on the keys before Katz returns for “Louise” to close.
Sure, most of the material here is so familiar that most true blues fans can sing along. But this one shines through Chambers’ readings and execution. It’s strongly recommended, and probably Sean’s best work yet.