Mark Hummel Wayback Machine Electro-Fi
Once upon a long time ago, I was a not-so-wee, not-so-young Fervor Coulee, and I pitched my first newspaper column to the local editor. To my astonishment, and I am sure his eventual repentance, he bought it and thus was launched, for a pair of columns, Rural Roots.
Prior to my third column, he decided ‘rural’ didn’t really capture what I was doing, and he (likely wisely) opted for the more conceptually succinct Roots Music.
Mark Hummel’s recent release Wayback Machine features the following words within its gatefold: “We tried to get a ‘rural feel’ on these tunes, and I think we got the down-home goods here.” Twenty years ago when I was thinking ‘rural roots,’ that was my aim: writing about music that has the country, the backroads, hills, hollers, coulees, and rivers, the farms, mines, and dirty factories—and their people—at its crucial foundation. I believe blues vet Mark Hummel has achieved his goal.
Three paragraphs in, and I’ve barely started: wish I was getting paid by the word!
By this point, I’m sure you wish the same for yourself.
I’m not pretending I know the difference between Hummel’s style of blues harmonica and any other modern harp howler’s: what he does, I quite enjoy. I’m told this is a tribute to the early blues players who influenced the burgeoning Chicago scene of the 1930s and ‘40s: again, ain’t pretending I know anything about something. More than twenty albums and forty-five years in, well-established is Hummel’s approach to blues music.
The majority of the songs come from that pre-electric era—Tampa Red’s “Play With Your Poodle,” Jazz Gillum’s “Gillum’s Windy Blues,” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Reefer Head Woman” (also attributed to Gillum, I’ve learned) to mention three—and these interpretations are stellar. Hummel and producer Kid Anderson have replicated that intimate, ‘hollow’ sound one associates with early 78s and the like, and certainly works within the provided context.
“Rag Mama Rag” is playful with all manner of percussion from (one presumes) the washboard of sideman Dave Eagle, with “Good Girl” coming in as natch’l blues, if you know what I am saying. Yup, these tracks have the country calling, that which Hummel was aiming toward.
New compositions from Hummel (“Road Dog” and “Say You Will,” featuring Joe Beard, who sings three numbers) and R. W. Grigsby (“Flim Flam,” the album’s pulsing lead track) contribute to the album’s individual, aural presence. The guitar players—Rusty Zinn, Billy Flynn, and Joe Beard—are well featured, and Aaron Hammerman’s piano playing is almost as prominent as Hummel’s harmonica.
At a generous 16-tracks and almost an hour, Wayback Machine is a real fun platter of throwback, rural roots blues, with an emphasis on rhythm &.