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John Hammond
The Jazz Cafe Thursday 25th May 2006

Review Ricardo

A fairly quiet Jazz Café for this solo performance by J.H. Jr, maybe reflecting the £25 ticket price being a bit steep for just a chap on his own with guitar and harp-in-a-rack. However once we're in and John's sorted out his upside down harmonica false start the price seems fair enough as he launches into into things with great verve and really rocks it.

He hits the guitar hard and the harp harder and, this being the first time I've seen him live, I'm really struck by the passion of his playing. It's extraordinarily loose and he's not in the least afraid to trip himself up - although he rarely does. His playing though is 'sweet' - he pulls the beauty of to the songs - and even when he's hitting things hard it's still got a purity. It's not rough, it's pretty, but it manages to avoid being bland.

A long time associate of Tom Waits, we get an extraordinary version of 'Get Behind The Mule' - for my money better than Waits, and of course here is a man not noted for writing his own material. We get an ethereal 'One Kind Favour' and a deeply moving 'It Hurts Me Too' amongst others. He's doing other peoples songs songs, but he's doing them in a way that makes them real, in some senses hearing these songs played this well live for the first time connects deeper than the scratchy records that I've been listening to for years. "I've been playing this song so long... It's mine!" he's says with a smile at one point.

He's been around a bit too, and we get plenty of anecdotes - tracking down Robert Johnson tracks round his dads house, hanging with Dylan, driving Big Joe Turner around Chicago. Yes, he's name dropping but he does it with some wit and in a self deprecating style that makes it not "look at how cool I am", but more "here's an interesting thing that I happened to see..." and much of it is plenty interesting. Apparently Howlin' Wolf idolised Jimmy Rogers - The Yodeling Brakeman country star (not the Chicago blues guitar legend) and he tried to emulate him, but it just came out as a howl!

We even got a story about meeting G-Love who, once he mentioned it, I realised owes more than a little to John with his paying. Apparently he's producing John's upcoming album, which I for one am certainly looking forward to. Hammond and G-love - together at last!

We've got an interview with John here and a review of his most recent CD here

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