John Hammond,
In Your Arms Again
(Back Porch, 2004)

If this stuff doesn't haunt you with the urge to strap on some overalls and go wrasslin' a bunch of pot-bellied hogs in the pen at feeding time, you need a heart transplant. This is quite simply some of the filthiest blues John Hammond has put to tape in many a year. Featuring a much smaller band than the one he trekked into the studio for the Ready for Love sessions, the production boasts a kind of grit and edge that will have Muddy Waters slapping a rhythm on his knee in the grave.

The cover photo says it all: just John and his wicked grin sitting on the train tracks, a beat-up old steel guitar cradled in his lap. Opening with a few downright nasty plucks of Hammond's D'Addario guitar strings, the album snarls into its furious pace and never lets up, ripping through a rendition of Ray Charles's "I Got a Woman" and a few tricks of Hammond's own: the addictive title track, "Come to Find Out" and the Hammond-arranged "Jitterbug Swing."

In Your Arms Again was recorded in all of five days, from August 23 to 27 of last year, and the proof is in the pudding. There is an effortless urgency about these tunes -- every single one of them -- that harkens back to the days when Skip James lit up the crowd at the Newport Folk festival with nothing more than a guitar and a song about the day the devil took his woman away.

That was 40 years ago. Mississippi John Hurt waited in the wings for his moment and there was something about a man and his guitar that could light the world on fire. Now, in 2005, it is an immense blessing that guys like John Hammond have survived into an age in which their ferociously raw brand of blues is as instructive and necessary as ever before.

Defying production in favor of soul, Hammond's In Your Arms Again is the kind of record Bob Dylan's Love & Theft was three years ago. It is the sort of music capable of reminding people what music used to sound like. It understands what it was that brought tens of thousands of people into the mud and rain to see Jimi play the national anthem one day in 1969. There isn't a single fan of the blues -- the casual, the purist or the obsessed -- who won't appreciate the value of a record like this one.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 26 February 2005

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