Albert Cummings,
Someone Like You
(Blind Pig, 2015)

Over the past decade or so, Albert Cummings has been quietly becoming one of the best bluesmen in America, a trip he embarked on upon first hearing Stevie Ray Vaughn. At the point, he turned in his banjo -- he'd been playing bluegrass -- and began to master the guitar. He got a chance to play with Double Trouble, Stevie Ray's rhythm section, who liked his playing so much that they volunteered to play on and produce his first album. That disc led to a recording deal that eventually led Cummings to Blind Pig Records, which signed him to a multi-album deal in 2004.

With each successive album, he has gotten better and better, until now, with Someone Like You he has come up with a CD strong enough to melt paint off a barn door.

The word most often used to describe Cummings' guitar playing is "pyrotechnics." After listening to Someone Like You, I'm going to recommend that the word be retired. Pyrotechnics are like fireworks: they explode, become all bright and colorful, light up the sky for a minute and then disappear. Pyrotechnics have no substance. Cummings' playing does. Sure, he's intense and can throw off blue notes as fast as an AK47 can fire cartridges, but his playing is sure, meaningful, rooted in strong musical ideas. Nothing is played to impress. His intentions go deeper than that.

Cummings' guitar lines are long, complex and original. His sense of improvisation is sure and he can shuffle and boogie with the best. What makes it astonishing, though, is his statement that "I had never played all but two of these songs before and the guys had never even heard them, so what you hear on this record is actually the first time these songs have ever been played."

The band is so tight, so connected to each other and so sure of the songs that it feels as though they've been playing them on the road for years. For Cummings, the music has to be spontaneous. This record gives him what he needs.

Jimmy Vivino also sits in on guitar (and if you only know him as Conan O'Brien's bandleader, you should immediately pick up his album, 13 Live, which I reviewed in these pages on 21 September 2013) and his presence appears to inspire Cummings, taking him even deeper into the music than he normally goes -- and he normally gets everything out of the tune that is in there. Their playing together is enough, should he ever be able to hear it, to transform Mozart into a blues fan.

So, here's the deal. Pick up this album. If you're not already a follower of Alberrt Cummings, you will be after hearing it. If you're already in his camp, you'll see why the word "fan" comes from the word "fanatic."

By the way, if you -- like my colleague Jerome Clark and, most times, myself -- feel that too much of today's electric blues is actually lacks a strong blues context and too often settles for achieving a very good rock sound, well, Cummings can rock out but he is too much a part of the blues to be just a rocker. What he is is a musician and a fine one whose new album should be heard by everybody.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

24 October 2015

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