It's a precious few artists who reinvent themselves at the age of 64, but blues luminary John Hammond proves himself the ultimate untraditional traditionalist as the dozen stellar songs on Push Comes to Shove illustrate. This CD marks an increased output in Hammond's original compositions, he penned five of the CD's 12 songs and there's a bold collaboration with the album's producer, G Love (the innovative and soulful Philly singer/guitarist and longtime Hammond fanatic), in the hip hop-tinged blues of 'Tore Down', as well as a handful of personalized renderings of traditional blues numbers, a musical modus operandi that has earned Hammond multiple Grammy nominations since his 1962 self-titled debut. Since then Hammond has made 31 records and tours year-round, learning from and playing with musical greats and friends including Tom Waits, Muddy Waters, and Michael Bloomfield. Those unparalleled experiences and authenticity shine through brightly on Push Comes to Shove.
If the combination of veteran bluesman John Hammond with contemporary Philly hip-hop/soulman G Love (a.k.a. Garrett Dutton) sends shivers of fear down the spines of blues purists, the duo's collaboration here shows there is nothing to be worried about. Despite differences in age, backgrounds, and styles, they have shared bills and obviously respect each other's talents. Hammond, who has recently dipped his toes into songwriting waters after being solely an interpretive artist for nearly 40 years, jumps into the river with a whopping five originals. Love contributes a few as well, and the result is an album that rocks harder and with more intensity than most artists half Hammond's age can muster. Add covers from Little Walter, Junior Wells, and Tom Waits (Hammond's 2001 release Wicked Grin
, comprised predominantly of Waits songs, is one of his biggest sellers), and the result is one of the finest and most diverse discs in the bluesman's bulging catalog. The stripped-down backing band of journeymen including bassist Marty Ballou, ex-Waits drummer Steven Hodges, and keyboardist Bruce Katz provides plenty of sparks with which Hammond--who plays rowdy guitar and sizzling harp throughout--can catch fire. Love adds his harmony vocals and rapping to his own "Tore Down," a near-perfect collision of blues and hip-hop and a song likely to get Hammond crossover acceptance with Dutton's more youthful jam-oriented audience. The jazzy "Eyes Behind Your Head" and a rollicking take on Dion's "If You Want to Rock and Roll" further expand Hammond's reach without either diluting his sound or distancing his core fans. In his mid-60s upon this album's release, he sounds loose, energized, and ready for another 40 years. --Hal Horowitz