Harpbreaker Reviews and Quotes
Big City Blues, Steve Daniels
Harpbreaker Review - October 2018
As prolific as he is proficient, blues harmonica maestro Mark Hummel presents, in his latest release, a full hour of instrumental blues, fronted by himself on "Mississippi saxophone." The tracks are culled from sessions spanning 2004 to 2018. Before listening I was skeptical; a few years ago I reviewed an all instrumental album by a European harp player who shall remain unnamed, and called it "harmonica elevator music." Not this one, though.
Hummel avoids the trap of monotony with a spiffy combination of expertise and a variety of tempos and moods. The expertise is not his alone; the diverse groupings include a stellar roster of guitarists: Charlie Baty, Rusty Zinn, Anson Funderburgh, Kid Andersen, Billy Flynn, and (a player previously unfamiliar to me) Charles Wheal. Among the other musicians, June Core and Marty Dodson distinguish themselves on drums, RW Grigsby on bass, and Bob Welsh on keyboards. Hummel composed three of the thirteen tunes, and arranged another, a nifty rendition of the classic "See See Rider"; among the remaining covers are tracks by Muddy Waters and Little Walter Jacobs.
In fact, one of the best tracks is a melding of two Littles: Walter, composer of the tune "Crazy Legs," with Little Charlie Baty dealing out sizzling lead guitar licks. Since departing as leader of the Nightcats (the West Coast, not Washington, DC band of that name), Baty has given freer rein to his jazz proclivities, but on this track he sticks to a blues motif.
We do get some jazz sensibility on the following cut, "Senor Blues," written by jazz pianist Horace Silver and memorably covered previously by Taj Mahal. With Rusty Zinn taking over the guitar duty and pianist Chris Burns making one of his several excellent contributions, the mid-tempo track is enhanced even further by the addition of trumpeter Lech Wierzynski and saxophonist Johnny Bones of the Oakland band the California Honeydrops. Right after that, Core and Grigsby deal out a gritty groove on the Hummel composition "Ready, Steady, Stroll!" while Zinn and Burns do their thing adroitly.
The entire set is energized from bar one of the opener, "Harpoventilatin'," an uptempo number with Welsh tickling the keys delightfully. We get slow tunes, we get fast tunes, we get "Walkin' with Mr. Lee," written by the late saxophonist Lee Allen, Hummel's artful harmonica renderings deftly replacing saxophone. We get ace guitarist Flynn burnishing the two most recently recorded tracks, spare outings accompanied only by Hummel, Dave Eagle on percussion and Aaron Hammerman on piano. And…we get Hummel's take on "Cristo Redentor," composed by Duke Pearson and identified strongly for decades now with Charlie Musselwhite's interpretation. It's graced by scintillating guitar work by Andersen and more masterful harmonica by Hummel, whose tone, slightly thinner than Musselwhite's, lends the tune an even more plaintive feel.
Making A Scene!, Richard Ludmerer
Harpbreaker Review - October 2018
Mark Hummel, harmonica player, vocalist, and songwriter formed his band The Blues Survivors in 1980. He released his first album as a bandleader in 1985. Since 1991 Hummel has produced the Blues Harmonica Blowout, a touring revue, with himself, The Blues Survivors and other guest harmonica players. This is Hummel’s twenty-first recording in his own name. He also appears on 14 anthologies including the 2013 Grammy nominated “Remembering Little Walter” which he produced. As a result that album won two Blues Music Awards: “Traditional Album of The Year” and “Album of The Year”. Overall Hummel has ten BMA nominations. In 2016 Hummel co-produced the Golden State Lone Star Revue with Anson Funderburgh.
This new harmonica album includes newly recorded and previously released instrumentals. The album opens with a Hummel original, “Harpoventilatin’ ”, live at Yoshis’ in Oakland, Ca. It appeared on his 2006 album “Ain’t Easy No More”. Featured along with Hummel, are guitarist Charles Wheal; Bob Welch, keyboards; Steve Wolf, bass; and Marty Dodson, drums. This same unit appears again on Little Sonny’s “The Creeper Returns”. From an earlier session is Buddy Rich’s “Rotten Kid” featuring Mel Brown on keys, and Dodson channeling Rich.
Three instrumentals previously appeared on Hummel’s 2010 recording “Retro-Active”. “Glide On” and another original “Ready, Steady, Stroll” feature guitarist Rusty Zinn; Chris Burns, keys; RW Grigsby, bass; and Willie Panker, drums. Horns are added on Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues”.
Lee Allen’s “Walkin’ with Mr. Lee” is from the Golden State Lone Star Revue including Hummel, guitarists Funderburgh and Little Charlie Baty; bassist Grigsby, and drummer Wes Starr. The same unit plays again on Little Walter’s “Crazy Legs”. On the former Jim Pugh is added on keyboards.
Recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio is Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor” originally released on Hummel’s 2014 album “The Hustle Is Really On”. From an earlier Greaseland session are two unreleased tracks Muddy Waters “Evans Shuffle” and a Hummel arranged version of the traditional “See, See Rider”.
Two more newly recorded tracks are also included. Baby Boy Warren’s “Chuckaluck” and another Hummel original “Billy’s Boogaloo” feature a unit with Hummel; guitarist Billy Flynn; Aaron Hammerman, piano; and Dave Eagle, washboard and percussion.
Hummel admits “at 15 years old…I was a miserable student, hung out with a drug and booze addled crowd and skipped a lot of school. Harp gave me a motivation I’d never had…I’d go to sleep at nights with Little Walter LP’s playing.” Hummel is both a student and a teacher as he has the tone and passion of his old school mentors. This is a must to own for every blues harp enthusiast.
★★★★★ Excellent Album! Great Stuff!
By Amazon Customer - October 7, 2018
For both harp aficionados and general listeners and those interested in all kinds of blues and blues derived genres and modified jazz this compilation is excellent. From the first song to the last, there is nothing but great listening. For the harp player, there is lots to learn, work on and play along with. Taking you from the depths to the heights, this is just a great album to put in your music library and listen to frequently! Great job!
"Harpbreaker is a must to own for every blues harp enthusiast."
- Richard Ludmerer, Making a Scene!
"This is an album that you’ll come back to again and again. Do yourself a good turn and pick this up soon. Hit play, and it won’t be long before a smile breaks out."
- Barry Kerzner, American Blues Scene
"Never a purist, Hummel's new album, the all-instrumental Harpbreaker, explores every aspect of the instrument."
- j.poet, East Bay Express Staff Pick
"Without saying a word, Mark Hummel’s harp speaks volumes, for fans of contemporary, harp-fueled blues. He swings and stomps, rips and romps thru excellent instrumentals as only a true “Harpbreaker” can!"
- Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society