You may not have heard of Sean Chambers but, when I tell you that (apart from seven other albums (including my favourites; Trouble and Whiskey and Welcome To My Blues)) he and his band were asked by the great Hubert Sumlin to be his backing band for a series of concerts, then you know he has to have something special. Hubert Sumlin is an unsung hero of mine (and many guitarists) as he played brilliantly on dozens of records and concerts but never really hit the limelight…not that surprising as he was the genius behind the genius that was Howlin’ Wolf and, briefly, Muddy Waters.
After touring with Sumlin for over four years, Sean decided the time was right to record a fitting tribute to his “mentor and friend.” The eleven tacks on That’s What I’m Talkin’ About – Tribute to Hubert Sumlin (a favourite phrase of Hubert’s) are ten culled from that touring setlist, plus one written by Sean as a salute to one of the most accomplished, sophisticated and effective guitarists to tread the blues boards. (A special word also for Willie Dixon is due as he wrote four of the songs: Willie was a boxer, a singer, guitarist, (the best ever) upright bass player, producer and, above all writer of the blues…he wrote or co-wrote well over five hundred songs that anyone who was anyone in the blues performed or covered. That continues to this day with Dixon ‘standards’ such as Hootchie Cootchie Man, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Little Red Rooster and Spoonful to name very few still garnering attention.)
On to Sean’s album and opener, Chunky, is a Hubert original; it stays faithful but heavies it up brilliantly…interesting to note that Trower also absorbed Sumlin. This is an instrumental with a great Hammond solo and a fiery, precise and downright excellent blues guitar solo.
Next is the first Dixon song, Do The Do, and frankly, it is a genius reading; the rolling tempo and drums are there but the added weight and slide on top of suitably gritty vocals makes this oldie a great newie! The slide solo is way too short and a little low in the mix, but this is quality. Rockin’ Daddy is a Sumlin/Wolf co-write that shows adapting earlier songs has always happened as the partially familiar melodies wind their way through the song…it was, and is, a genuinely new song however and Sean again keeps the essence but feeds in his unique interpretations and the guitar is great throughout…listen to those runs and that solo!
Goin’ Down Slow has been done by many, murdered by some and adapted endlessly…Free did the best, although this one is damn close. The guitar phrasing has just the right amount of attack that somehow encapsulates the original, St Louis Jimmy Oden song, wraps a bit of Koss into it and yet keeps the Wolfishness. It is a masterpiece in blues guitar and how to do a cover right but different. Hidden Charms is again faithful yet fresh as Sean plays Sumlin’s clever backing riffs with a smile. The solo plays with melodies cleverly too and brings an extra, modern touch to a great song…as does the tasty Hammond solo and brilliant bass line.
Forty Four is another one of those old blues standards that have seen many versions and adaptations be it appended with blues or not…the Roosevelt Sykes (semi) original was taken seriously by the Wolf and so too by Sean; the piano backing is quality as that great riff rears its beautiful head with a Strat tone to be envious of…for me anyway, my Strat never sounds like that. The solo is lovingly crafted with phrasing between the repeated riff that is virtually words.
Taildragger is another Dixon masterpiece of blues tropes made new and Sean renews them again with voice and guitar speaking as one…the Hammond/guitar trading solos section is magnificent. The next track was written by Sean as a warm tribute to Hubert and tells their story: Hubert’s Song manages to sum him up in every way as the guitar reflects some of the nuances Hubert was such a master of but is still stamped with Sean’s personality too, especially in the solo.
Up next, a true classic; Sitting On Top Of The World is a fabulous song; written by Walter Vinson and released in 1930 by The Mississippi Sheiks, it has been covered by quite a few with Cream being the err, top of the milk! This version has added bite with Hammond and guitar combining well and the phased guitar bringing another dimension. The guitar solo has more attack and (dare I say) clarity than EC’s and only loses out to Cream because it didn’t last as long!
The penultimate track, Howlin’ For My Darling, is a Dixon/Wolf co-write and is updated neatly from the Wolfman (sometimes called Howlin’ For My Baby) and, to my ear at least, is closer in stature to Albert King’s version…whatever, it is a fine, fine version with more classy guitar on riff and solo.
The album closes with Louise, a song written and released by the underrated Johnny Temple in 1936; my previously favourite version was the acoustic excellence of Fred McDowell, but now I have a favourite electric version courtesy of this great reading. Great piano this time as Sean’s voice and guitar playing bring the whole thing to a new life.
OK, bar one song, it’s yet another covers album, but be in no doubt that this is one of the finest for many a year…not only is Sean qualified to reflect and pay tribute to a great guitar hero, he does it with skill, warmth and love. So, no matter how many versions you may have of some of these classics, this provides a fresh look that means, for example, I can have a ball listening to Wolf, King and Chambers doing Howlin’ For My Darling one after the other and get something out of each one as they may be the same but they are also different…buy this and find out.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album that is a guitarists heaven; a blues standard lovers treat and an all-around damn good album.
Do The Do (Dixon)
Rockin’ Daddy (Sumlin/Burnett)
Goin’ Down Slow (Oden)
Hidden Charms (Dixon)
Forty Four (Sykes)
Hubert’s Song (Chambers)
Sitting On Top Of The World (Walter Vinson)
Howlin’ For My Darling (Dixon/Burnett)
Sean Chambers – guitar/vocals
Antar Goodwin – bass
Andrei Koribanics – drums
Rick Curran – Hammond B3/keyboards
Bruce Katz, John Ginty: keyboards
(iTunes took me to a relatively unknown British bluesman; Sean Webster and his band The Dead Lines. The familiar but definitive new song The Mayor was an added treat.)