Thursday, September 09, 2010

Hubert Sumlin – About Them Shoes

Hubert Sumlin is best known for his guitar work on some of Howlin’ Wolf’s most famous numbers, but he also worked with Muddy Waters and was a mainstay of the Chicago blues scene for most of his life. This 2003 release is his answer to Hooker’s Mr. Lucky – plenty of guest stars and an over-all terrific band.

Sumlin pays his respect to the fantastic Muddy Waters with a number of tunes here, as in the opener, Water’s “I’m Ready”, with special guest Eric Clapton trading leads with Hubert. The band is strong throughout with the likes of Levon Helm (The Band) on drums and harp playing by someone I’m not familiar with, Paul Oscher, who is amazing. (The magic internet tells me that he worked with Muddy in he late 60’s/early 70’s band.)

Having lived and played with the greats over the years means that Hubert has the feel as well as the knowledge and he plays leads on all of the tracks here and interacts with the guest singers and the band with taste and skill.
In more of a John Lee Hooker feel, Keith Richards adds some guitar to “Still a Fool”, with great results. James Cotton joins the group for some sweet harp playing on “She’s Into Something” and then “Iodine in my Coffee” is highlighted by some superb Elmore James-ish slide work, though I’m not sure if that is from Sumlin or band guitarist Bob Margolin. Hubert works it out with the band on several fine, varied blues numbers before returning with Clapton on vocals and guitar on another Waters’ tune, “Long Distance Call”. More fine interplay between the guitars and harp and the back up band.

One of my favorite Muddy tunes is “The Same Thing” and the surprise guest on Sumlin’s version is the NY Dolls’ David Johansen on vocals! He does a terrific job and the band cooks behind him on this sex-drenched number. “Don’t Go No Father” is another one from the pen of Willie Dixon and another excellent tune, Keith returns on “I Love the Life I Live”, Johansen comes back for “Walkin’ Thru the Park” and the CD finishes with Keith again in the appropriately titled “This is the End, Little Girl”.

Unlike many “come back” albums, especially from blues artists in their later years, this one is powerful from start to finish and the guests add to the flavor without changing what Sumlin is all about – just great, down-home, Chicago-styled blues! This is a good one!