Every so often, the man behind the curtain steps out front. Blu Ja Vu offers the latest sighting since 2018’s high-stepping Nola Sessions. Plus, its 44 minutes also make a great vantage point for stargazing.
Now, if you haven’t heard of him, you sure enough have heard him. As well as his work.
Because the multitasking Tom Hambridge has been a blur ever since the 1990s, turning up everywhere: Drumming on Johnny Winter’s I’m a Bluesman and Buddy Guy’s The Blues is Alive and Well. Singing on George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ 2120 South Michigan Ave and Buddy Guy’s Born to Play Guitar. Funneling his songs into Susan Tedeschi’s Just Won’t Burn and Buddy Guy’s Living Proof. And producing all of the above, too, along with Selwyn Birchwood’s Living in a Burning House, Joe Louis Walker’s Hornet’s Nest, and Foghat’s Under the Influence. And if those four shiny Grammy awards atop Tom’s mantle for having produced Christone “Kingfish” Ingram’s 662 and those three Buddy albums don’t speak volumes, then Bernard Allison, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Delbert McClinton, Shemekia Copeland, ZZ Top, and Keb Mo can personally do so.
The list goes on and on and on.
From among the mountain of Hambridge’s connections, a handful of high-profile ones return the favor by guesting on his all-original set, bringing extra firepower to an album that pretty much already roars throughout. That’s Buddy trading vocals across “Ain’t It Just Like Love” while his guitar’s manic solo fibrillates amid the rhythm’s crunch. Ingram (“Blues Don’t Care”) and Joe Bonamassa (“That’s My Home”) likewise sing and string with their anticipated showmanship. But of all the greenlights given to guitarists here to let loose within the compact space allotted, “Sick with Love” signals Rob McNelly to go the most bonkers of all. It clocks in as the album’s heaviest, loudest four minutes. Then, to ensure the adrenaline gets doled out evenly, James Cotton hyperventilates “Brother John Boogie” on harmonica, as Chuck Leavell races alongside on keyboards with the flair that earned him regular slots in both the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers Band.
Yet after all the special visitors have filed out and gone home, leaving Hambridge and his crack band to their own, the session never flags. No less sweat equity gets invested in bringing “Wear You Out” and “Automatic” to life with huge rock energy and spirit. The bottlenecked salute to “Johnny Winter” lobbies, hard, for the Texan’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pool all that together with a hypnotically revolving “Symptoms of Love,” with Hambridge rasping out its earworm refrains at the same time as thumping out a heartbeat on concussed drums, and it goes to show that he’s as good an interpreter of his own material as anyone.
Label: Quarto Valley Records
Release Date: 9/15/23
Artist Website: http://hambridgetunes.com/
Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski