LP Number: Cisco VSD-79178
Regular readers of this magazine know that I am a blues aficionado. So it warms my heart to see Cisco taking a risk with the reissue of this album by the inestimable John Hammond. This is a recording of real, gritty, unadorned blues, and the built-in audience for this type of music is not huge. But it should be. In this recording we are privileged to hear one of the leading lights of the blues universe, near the beginning of his recording career, already a clear master of blues interpretation. And we get some knock-out backing instrumentals, particularly from none other than Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, Robbie Robertson(!) on guitar, and Levon Helm on drums. If you love the blues, you should own this album. If you are curious about the blues, you should buy this album to hear a master at work. But if you're primarily a sound hound, you may wish to pass. The sound is decent-to-good, but not great, but if you love the blues it won't matter one whit. John Hammond, who has played with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and many other luminaries, really delivers the goods.
I was privileged to see John Hammond play at Chad Kassem's Blues Masters at the Crossroads festival in Salina, Kansas, on October, 2002. Hammond proved to be a multi-talented headliner who just sat down and burst forth with music. He really knew how to project his brand of classic blues to the crowd. His dose of high-energy acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocals drove the crowd wild, and they loved his facile, phenomenal picking. He showed why he's won so many W. C. Handy awards in the years since this album was made.
This album was recorded in 1965 on Vanguard, three years after John began recording. The Cisco reissue reproduces the original jacket and labels. The surfaces of this 180 gram LP are flat and quiet. Songs from various artists are featured, including Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams, and none other than the mysterious grandfather of the blues, Robert Johnson (with lyrics added by John Hammond). If you can sit completely still while listening to Robert Johnson's "Rambling Blues," you're dead. This album really gets moving, and repeatedly takes off into high-energy territory. Even though the subject matter is the blues, by the end of this album you should feel good, especially after listening to Hammond's vocals. He holds nothing back, and is obviously completely committed to the music. And that is as it should be with all great artists.
It's a distinct pleasure to see Cisco branching out into blues and folk, the latter with the recent release of Farewell, Angelina by Joan Baez. Cisco is doing the world a service by increasing our range of choices even more during this renaissance in vinyl reissues. Please show Cisco that you support their move into this art form by buying this album. If you're a blues lover, you won't be sorry. And if you're simply curious about the blues, you'll get an excellent exposure to what real blues are all about.