Harmonica ace Mark Hummel sets the wayback machine to Chicago in the 1940’s to re-introduce us to the “Bluebird Beat”, the sound that producer Lester Melrose developed that was hugely popular at the time. There are a couple of exceptions to the program but for those Bluebird songs, he has assembled a downhome band featuring The Deep Basement Shakers: Aaron Hammerman on piano and Dave Eagle on washboard/percussion. Engineer Chris “Kid” Andersen plays bass throughout and Billy Flynn, Chicago’s repository of traditional blues adds tasteful guitar on most. Hummel has chosen some less well-known titles but John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Tampa Red, Jazz Gillum and Robert Nighthawk are all represented with excellent performances. The only quibble is that Eagle’s washboard/percussion is sometimes too prominent, it was only on Jazz Gillum’s work, himself a washboard player, that it was so prominent. But this is a small quibble when the playing is of such a high level. Highlights include SBW’s “Cut That Out”, Nighthawk’s “Pepper Mama” and Tampa Red’s “Play with Your Poodle” perhaps better-known today as a staple of Marcia Ball’s live show. Generously, Hummel gives Hammerman the vocal on “Rag Mama Rag” and this group does a new song by Hummel, “Road Hog”, in which he bemoans his constant touring. There are two additions to the album that fall outside the wayback machine: the opening “Flim Flam (Man)” is an unflattering portrait of President Trump by bassist R.W. Grigsby. Hummel’s band here includes Rusty Zinn on guitar and outlier though it may be, it’s a fine album opener. The other exception is more substantial. Hummel wanted to feature Joe Beard, the unheralded bluesman based in Rochester NY and the final three tracks are deep country acoustic blues of the highest order. Beard sings and plays Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years” with Hummel on harmonica. “Say You Will” may be a recent composition by Hummel but Beard’s solo performance is gorgeous. Arthur Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco” rounds out an all-too-brief reminder that such a prominent bluesman is but a short drive from Toronto. Wayback Machine will be released on January 17 and www.markhummel.com shows only California dates so far. 

Blues Revival #8 Featuring Emily Burgess
Durham County Poets - January 2020