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John Hammond - In Your Arms Again (Electric Catfish Records)
Review by David Atkinson

John Hammond - In your Arms

Since his time with Vanguard and then Pointblank records in the 90s, In Your Arms Again is John Hammond’s second album since the acclaimed Wicked Grin (2001) and the follow up to Ready For Love (2003). It represents another subtle shift in his long career – some 29 albums to date - but, as the title would suggest, it is a more intimate and seemingly heartfelt affair than the last few records. It was produced by Oz Fritz and recorded at the Blue Heaven Studio in Kansas - an old gothic-style former church now used as a concert venue and recording studio.

Kicking off with the runaway mine cart of Bukka White’s Jitterbug Swing, John beats and slides over the incessant rhythm provided by Marty Ballou and Steven Hodges on double bass and drums (who are superb throughout the whole album). It rumbles along with the authority we’ve come to expect from man who’s spent years on the road and worked with the likes of John Lee Hooker, JJ Cale, Duke Robillard, Tom Waits, David Hidalgo and Charlie Musselwhite.
There’s no let up before the first of the album’s two Ray Charles tracks; I Got A Woman maintains the original’s driving church rhythm but with clapping hands and guitar rather than piano; and Fool For You stays up late and burns it down low with some great tactile electric guitar. They’re fine examples of Hammond’s ability to inhabit a song without pastiche or pretence and are a nice nod to the late, great master.

Howlin’ Wolf tunes can topple all but the most sure-footed, but Hammond’s heavyweight versions of Evil (Is Goin’ On), I’m leaving You and Moanin’ For My Baby hang from Steven Hodges’ drums and really lock down on the harmonica breaks. The harp and wiry guitar evoke Burnett and Sumlin but they really showcase the core production values that have made Hammond’s recent output exemplary: lush and natural but not slick. It’s gritty but not low-fi.

Serves You Right To Suffer curiously juxtaposes acoustic guitar with what sounds like a fuzzed-up bass set back in the mix. It’s a subtle effect but really works in lieu of piano or organ yet doesn’t sound out of place.

The title track and Come To Find Out are both original compositions and fit perfectly with the rest of the album; the latter is a lyrically impressive acoustic blues with some ghostly harp drifting in and out. Clearly, he’s more comfortable as a writer to include his own work alongside those he admires, so maybe we’ll be treated to a whole album of original material one day.