CD Review of Push Comes to Shove by John Hammond

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Push Comes to Shove
starstarstarstarno star Label: Back Porch
Released: 2007
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John Hammond has been making albums for over 40 years now, and even if all of them haven’t been classics, the man is a certified blues legend – which is why a lot of purists and longtime fans probably felt stabbing abdominal pains after hearing that Push Comes to Shove was produced by Garrett Dutton, also known as G. Love. If you’re unfamiliar with G. Love’s work, imagine the coolest, bluesiest, hip-hoppiest soundtrack to the best beer commercial in the history of television – then throw in some vocals that no one can understand, and make the commercial 12 years long. Like Jack Johnson – with whom he’s friends – G. Love has built a long and comfortable career out of making music for people who are too high to realize they’re buying the same album over and over again.

He’s also a brilliant choice to produce a John Hammond record, for the simple reason that he’s clearly wished he was Hammond for a long time now; even if his own material frequently lands a few yards shy of the goalposts, he knows exactly what a John Hammond album should sound like. Consider this great story, relayed by Hammond’s wife, Marla, in the CD booklet:

“In 1992, a young Garrett Dutton and his girlfriend came to hear John perform live. The venue was a bar outside of Philadelphia. Garrett was old enough to drive but too young to drink. He decided to approach the first couple who looked old enough to be his parents. Guess who? It was John and myself.”

Imagine being given the opportunity to produce your favorite artist – to iron out the wrinkles in his sound, to play to his strengths, to right every previous album’s wrong. Now imagine the odds that you’d actually live up to this responsibility. G. Love does it, and with aplomb; even if recent Hammond albums haven’t fallen prey to as many of the stumbling blocks plaguing modern blues records as they could have, neither have they rocked like this.

The material helps, naturally. Aside from five solid Hammond originals, the album includes – among others – a mean take on Junior Wells’ “Come on in This House,” Sonny Thompson’s “I’m Tore Down,” and Tom Waits’ “Cold Water.” There’s also the requisite G. Love tune, “Butter,” which doesn’t suck, mostly because it’s a thin rewrite of “Tramp,” and “Tramp” is a great song. Phlegm, spittle, and dried sweat coat the proceedings.

Push Comes to Shove is a belching, roaring beast of a blues record, all fat drums, distorted guitars, and howling, dusty vocals; it’s a thoroughly worthy addition to Hammond’s catalog, and a full-blooded continuation of his recent hot streak. It’s early, of course, but the first gauntlet has been thrown in the battle for blues album of the year.

~Jeff Giles