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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1460

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Albert Cummings: Working Man
by George Graham

(Blind Pig 5105 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/11/2006)

The history of music is full of prodigies. It only makes0 sense that an extraordinary musician would start early in life and show a great ability at very young age. But in some genres, maturity is also a great asset. The blues is one of those. While there have been some young blues sensations, they are usually the ones known for their flashy guitar licks, rather than their ability to capture the emotional depth of the blues.

This week, we have a first-rate blues CD from an artist who started somewhat later in life than many, but he has become a performer who has both the impressive guitar work, and the depth that the blues requires. He is Albert Cummings, and his new fourth CD is called Working Man.

Albert Cummings did start playing guitar at an early age, learning the basics, but at age 12, decided to switch to 5-string banjo and play bluegrass. He did that for a few years before his brother gave him some tapes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, which again turned his musical direction. He recalls being very impressed with Vaughan's technique. He became a fan, eventually got to see Vaughan live, and was hooked.

But Cummings was also involved with his family's business, a successful New England homebuilding firm for over a hundred years. He was the fourth Albert in the Cummings family to be part of the firm. Despite his enthusiasm for the music, Cummings always expected that he would be carrying on the family business. He went to school and studied toward that end, and joined the National Guard, married and indeed started his part of the business. He says that he was 27 before he "finally got up with a band and played a Chuck Berry song at friend's wedding." He says after that "I guess I got bit." So he put in many hours practicing with a friend, and began to play more gigs, eventually performing with a band called Swamp Yankee, which through a serendipitous turn of events was booked to appear opening for Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan's former rhythm section in a gig at Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in Upstate New York. Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon of Double Trouble were impressed with Cummings, and offered to produce and appear on an album with him, and the result was Cummings' CD From the Heart released in 2002. In 2004, Cummings along with Tommy Shannon and other guests worked with Memphis-based producer Jim Gaines on True to Yourself.

Now Cummings is back with a new recording with his own regular band, again produced by Jim Gaines, and the result is impressive. The title Working Man is a reflection of Cummings' own background in the construction trades, as well as a nod to the inclusion of a Merle Haggard song Working Man's Blues, the only non-original piece on the recording.

Working Man is very much a band effort this time, with no guest musicians and very little overdubbing evident. The musical format is a three-piece blues band throughout, with bassist Dave Smith, who sometimes plays fretless electric bass, and drummer Steve Potts. They are a cohesive group that keeps it simple, with tight musicianship that supports the songs, and also provides a strong backing for Cummings' guitar solos, when they happen. The material runs from straight out electric blues to a couple of tunes that approach singer-songwriter style. Cummings' influence by Stevie Ray Vaughan is evident, and at a deeper level, one can hear Jimi Hendrix filtered through Vaughan. But Cummings does set forth his own style, marked mainly by good songwriting and classy understated blues-rock musicianship.

Opening the generous 13-track CD is Herle Haggard's Working Man Blues, which takes well to the blues-rock treatment that Cummings and company provide. <<>>

The following piece, the first of the originals, Say You Love Me provides a chance for Cummings to show off his guitar work. The lyrics are rather typical for a blues song, but the band shines. <<>>

Cummings and band make an effort to include a range of styles within the realm of the blues-rock perimeter. Girls to Shame takes a slightly funky rhythmic approach in this song that expresses two classic blues topics, love and jealousy, though both with a twist. <<>>

No blues album would be complete without a slow blues. Cummings includes a couple on Working Man. One is called Let Me Be, on which Dave Smith gets out his fretless bass. It's one of the highlights of the CD. <<>>

Cummings and colleagues are not above providing a party song. The appropriately-named Party Right Here has requisite combination of groove and lyrics for the occasion. <<>>

A contrast to that is I'm Free, another of the CD's better performances. The song deals with another of those standard blues topics, a breakup, though here it's from the viewpoint of someone who thinks he's better off that way. The band is in very good form on this one. <<>>

Cummings shifts into a style more typical of a singer-songwriter than an electric blues man on a couple of his original songs. One of them First Day is an affirmation that the blues is Cummings' strongest suit. <<>>

The band cranks into high gear, boogie style, on the song Please, which hits on standard blues topics, but with lots of energy. It serves as a reminder of why Cummings has been attracting a lot of attention and critical praise recently. <<>>

Albert Cummings' new CD Working Man is an all-around impressive blues-rock recording by an artist who been performing professionally for only a relatively few years, but who does everything right. When he is not building houses, Cummings writes and plays energetic but classy electric blues. He and his two band-mates are the only people heard on this CD, but they make a lot of sound, in the classic blues trio format. The original material is strong, even though lyrically it covers most of the standard blues song subjects.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." The recording is bright, punchy and clean, for most part. The dynamic range not very wide, but that sounds OK for this kind of blues. Producer Jim Gains did an excellent job in the studio.

There may not be anything qualitatively new or different about Albert Cummings' new CD Working Man, but the excitement of the blues comes from the performance, and Cummings and his band provide the combination of energy and musicianship to make it happen.

(c) Copyright 2006 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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