Mark Hummel
Heart of Chicago
Tone Cool 1158
Mark Hummel helped invent the contemporary West Coast blues sound. More than most of his California contemporaries, he kept a hand in the Chicago style, as is evinced by Heart of Chicago.

There's not a dud among the 14 cuts, a good mix of rockin' originals from Hummel and cool covers that so refreshingly avoid the shopworn. If you can judge from the back-cover photo, during his Windy City stay Hummel bunked at the Heart of Chicago Motel and definitely chose his sidemen from the heart of Chicago's blues scene. Barrelhouse Chuck was a pupil of Little Brother Montgomery and is a master of the traditional style that's aortal to this session. One of the guitarists is Steve Freund, long-term bandmate of Sunnyland Slim. Also on deck were Willie Smith, Bob Stroger, Bill Flynn and David Myers.

My copy is notably less loud than compact-disc standard, which leads me to think production/mix may be what makes Hummel sound a tad less the power player than, say, Rod Piazza or the late Bill Clarke. Not that his skills are in any doubt; his tone and deftness kill right out of the pocket on the lively opener "My Kind of Baby" (originally by Little Walter). The band's locked on to him, and even this early, initiates will know Heart of Chicago has the right stuff.

Hummel's own "Rockin' at the Riverside," a harp instrumental, really jumps, and the Earl Hooker-ish "Lost a Good Man," the old-timey "Step Back Baby" (sans drums with piano and harp interlacing brilliantly) and the poignant "Living With the Blues" all hallmark a disc that gets high marks for musicianship, band interaction, song selection and (perhaps most importantly of all) heart.

-- Tim Schuller

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Boulder, CO, USA.