Mark Hummel - The Hustle Is Really On
Mark Hummel's latest album ought to be hanging (out) in an audio museum. Little Charlie Baty and Anson Funderburgh trading off licks on one tune is a hell of a thing, but when you 've got 'em doing it for eight tracks on one record, along with Hummel, you've got a trio of museum-worthy old masters who deserve to be in a big exhibition hall where everybody can enjoy them.
But wait -- there's more. The Hustle Is Really On is a twofer: two separate recording sessions mashed together on one record. Hummel fronts another band for six more cuts with Charlie Musselwhite's guitarist Kid Anderson.
Although Hummel is the centerpiece, he's got the grace and the confidence to give his sidemen plenty of room, so the record is just as much a showcase for Funderburgh, Baty, and Anderson as it is for Hummel. That in no way diminishes what he does. A guy who calls up the spirits and the styles of Big and Little Walter, Sonny Boys I and II, Junior Wells, James Cotton, and Junior Wells and can hang in there and blow equally well on all of them, while letting his own style shine through, is a national treasure. The fact that he reveres these guys and has studied them meticulously is evident in his work.
Hummel conducts a tour of blues greats here, flipping through the catalogs of Muddy Waters for “What Is That She Got,” Jimmy Reed's “I'm gonna Ruin You,” Little Walter's “Tonight With a Fool” and “Crazy Legs,” and Percy Mayfield's “Give Me Time To Explain.”
Lazy Lester's classic version of “Blues Stop Knockin',” featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan, would be a tough act to follow for some, but Hummel's cover -- featuring some great twangy honky-tonk from Funderburgh and Baty -- makes their Texas- flavored version just as tasty.
Little Walter's 1953 cut "Crazy Legs" featured guitarist Louis Myers sounding like Les Paul strumming smoothly over a bongo background with Walter's reverb-drenched harp over the top. Hummel's version comes on quite a bit stronger -- the bongos replaced with tom-toms, his harp sounding like he's bouncing off the walls of a tile bathroom while Baty and Funderburgh throw clang around like sackfuls of horseshoes.
You get to hear two of the best blues guitarists working today interpret T-Bone Walker on his 1950 classic “The Hustle Is On,” while Hummel shows off his considerable harp skills in a manner that emphasizes but never overshadows his collaborators.
Hummel is big on players knowing the background of the music before calling themselves musicians. “It’d be like me going into classical music and not bothering to learn who Beethoven or Bach was,” the harpist says. “Man, if you don’t got anything to build on, how you ‘re gonna call yourself a musician? I get real messed up about this stuff because I’ve been playing the music for long enough now. And I’ve been playing it as seriously as possible and tying to play as much for my soul as possible, but you gotta build on something if you’re gonna create your own style.”
There's plenty of style here, with Hummel's soul prominently on display as well. This is one exhibition you'll want in your own collection, an affordable piece of art your ears will thank you for, for the rest of your life.