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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1325

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Hamilton Loomis: Kickin' It
by George Graham

(Blind Pig 5084 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/28/2003)

It's interesting to consider how music styles, which were once new and freewheeling -- initially dismissed by a previous generation as ignoring the traditions -- themselves become tradition-bound after a while. Jazz, country, bluegrass, and even rock & roll have reached the point that one can talk about being "traditional" in those styles, and performers are vulnerable to being accused of untrue to the music, or worse, if he or she should fail to follow the dictates of the traditions.

In that light, the blues become a virtual museum piece in many fans' minds, even though its beginnings were obviously humble, created by performers who were apt to try just about anything. So while the blues is certainly an energetic and deeply fulfilling music, a lot of it sounds fairly similar by nature of the traditions that have built up since the early to-mid 20th Century -- compounded by the fact that the blues is at its core, fairly simple from a musicological standpoint. And performers who mess with the blues are as likely to be booed in some quarters as cheered for innovation.

This week we have a performer who is clearly aware of the strong traditions in the blues, but makes an effort to step beyond them to some extent, consciously describing his music as "blues outside the box." He is Hamilton Loomis, whose new fourth CD is called Kickin' It.

Houston, Texas-based Hamilton Loomis' musical career had an early start. The son of musical parents, who performed in a doo-wop group, he was recruited for the family band at age 14, where he served as a multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, guitar, bass and harmonica, though his first instrument was drums, which he started at age five. His parents had an extensive record collection of blues, soul, Motown, funk, and Texas swing, and young Hamilton found himself drawn into the many rootsy styles. At age 16, Loomis met Bo Diddley, and they become friends, and mentor and acolyte. Loomis also became friends with other Texas blues legends like Clarence Gatemouth Brown, and the late Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins. Loomis first started attracting wide attention after performing at the Delta Blues Festival when he was sixteen, and in 1994 released his first album, on which he played all instruments. He has been performing virtually non-stop since then, releasing three other independent CDs. Now he is out with his first widely-distributed recording, already having a lengthy track record and a well-developed style.

Loomis freely mixes blues with R&B, some soul, and bits of more contemporary sounds like drum loops, on Kickin' It, all the while showing great musicianship, especially on guitar, serving as an appealing and soulful singer, and a songwriter who can come up with great hooks and smart lyrics. While it never wanders too far from the mainstream in blues, Kickin' It is an eclectic and yet very appealing mix that will keep you dancing to the rhythmic grooves while impressing you with the guitar work. In some ways, Hamilton Loomis resembles another Gulf-Coast musician known to mix rock, soul and blues, Delbert McClinton, and his attraction to Memphis soul can also evoke comparisons with Robert Cray.

While Loomis established his career early as multi-instrumentalist, for this CD he is joined by additional players including keyboard man Brant Leeper, who also contributes two songs, bassist Mike Cross who plays on the two songs when Loomis does not play the bass himself, and Nico Peophonte and Levi Haddock III who alternate on the drums. There is also a small horn section that makes an appearance on two tracks, further cementing the Memphis soul connection.

The good-time feel of the album is established on the opening track called Workin' Hard, which in this case, means working hard doing nothing. It's outwardly a rather straight-ahead blues boogie, though the song's structure with its various parts, is not exactly a twelve-bar blues. <<>>

The direction turns toward a kind of soulful mixture of Memphis and Motown for the song No No No. It's another strong track with great musicianship. <<>>

Loomis' eclecticism comes out on the song Just Your Fool, which after an acoustic start <<>> goes all-rock rock & roll, with Loomis' typically adroit lyrics. <<>>

With decidedly untraditional ingredients is Got My Blues On. The great Memphis-style groove occasionally breaks into a hip-hop influenced drum loop and a Funkadelic style vocoder effect. <<>>

There is a ballad on this generally upbeat album. Better Man, written by keyboard man Brant Leeper, is a great positive song in the classic R&B style, on which Loomis really shows his vocal chops. <<>>

In a decidedly different lyrical direction is Take a Number (Stand in Line), on which the horn section makes an appearance. <<>> Loomis also puts in a one of those compact guitar solos that accomplishes a lot in just a fraction of a minute. <<>>

Loomis is an able harmonica player, though he doesn't play it as much on this CD as he might. One track featuring his blues-harp work is 99 Miles. The result is an interesting mix of influences, including the Delbert McClinton style. It's another groove-laden track that makes it is hard to sit still. <<>>

The CD ends with its most eclectic track, Who Dat?, an instrumental jam that's a kind of sonic potpourri with different instruments and tape loops popping in and out. <<>>

Hamilton Loomis' self-description of what he does as "blues outside the box" is a fair characterization. His new CD Kickin' It is a creative mix of influences from rock, soul, funk, blues and even a little hip-hop, all held together with a great groove. Loomis' reputation as a guitar-slinger is illustrated on the CD, but not at the expense of the songs, since despite the conglomeration of styles, the CD never strays far from the R&B ideals of strong songs, strong musicianship, and strong rhythmic grooves. Loomis proves himself to be a significant contender in vocals, guitar work, harmonica playing, and even bass playing, as well as being a creative songwriter, cleverly combining the influences in his music to make memorable songs that do what the blues is all about -- making you feel good.

Our grade for sound quality on the CD is an "A." Although I usually gripe about how compression has been making everything the same volume in current CDs, in this sort of music, that's not as much of a drawback. But the recording has a great, immediate, and kind of "punchy" sound that really helps the music's groove. There are also some interesting, but relatively subtle sonic tricks that are tastefully used to add some interest here and there, helping to remind us that this is not old-time blues by any stretch.

Hamilton Loomis may not play strictly traditional blues, but as far I'm concerned, that's fine. He brings a fresh approach that nevertheless does not lose sight on the music's long history.

(c) Copyright 2003 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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