About Them Shoes, Hubert Sumlin’s brand new album (Tone-Cool/Artemis Records), should please fans of blues guitar immensely. Sumlin has released several albums since he resurfaced in the studio in the late ’80s for a pair of releases on Black Top, but this one is his best post-Howlin’ Wolf effort.
This year is shaping up to be a great one for Sumlin, as he is finally getting some long overdue recognition. Rolling Stone Magazine recently included him in their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists, a biography of Sumlin, titled Incurable Blues was recently completed and should be published this Spring, and he will be featured in the Martin Scorcese/Antoine Fuqua performance film, “Lightning In A Bottle.”
Despite his 25+ year association with the Wolf, Sumlin’s new disc features 12 songs either written by Muddy Waters or by Willie Dixon (but associated with Waters), plus one new composition by Sumlin. Although it’s probably not known by casual fans, Sumlin did do a six-month stint in the Muddy Waters band during the mid ’50s, when Waters tripled his salary from what he was making with Wolf.
About Them Shoes is loaded with guest stars, which might send diehard fans running for the door, but if they do, it’s their loss. Clapton, who appears on two songs, the opener “I’m Ready” and “Long Distance Call,” is relaxed and at the top of his game, both on guitar and on vocals. Richards also appears on two tracks, contributing surprisingly good vocals on “Still A Fool,” and providing guitar accompaniment on that track as well as on Sumlin’s lone vocal effort, the self-penned “This Is The End, Little Girl.”
David Johansen also sings on two tracks, “The Same Thing” and “Walkin’ Through The Park.“ In addition, other guest stars include Levon Helm, who plays drums on most of the tracks, David Maxwell, who channels the ghost of Otis Spann with his incredible piano, and early Sumlin cohort James Cotton lends harmonica to one track.
Also providing support to Sumlin are Waters alumni Paul Oscher on harmonica and guitarist Bob Margolin. Though Sumlin only sings on the one track, the vocals on the other songs are ably handled by Oscher, Nathaniel Peterson (Savoy Brown), George Receli (who also plays drums on a few tracks), and Blondie Chaplin (The Band, The Rolling Stones).
Through it all, Sumlin is at his best, throwing those idiosyncratic licks around with reckless abandon just like in the old days at Chess. He is clearly the star of the show. Rob Fraboni’s production is perfect.
This could have been another one of those guest-star discs that completely overwhelmed the talents of the star, but it’s not that by a long shot. Everything blends seamlessly into one of the better Blues albums in the past few years.
Don’t pass this one up.
--- Graham Clarke
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