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Wicked Grin

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Album Review

After 35 years into a career that spans 35 albums recorded for seven labels, you'd think John Hammond might get a little complacent. Thankfully the opposite is true, as 2001's Wicked Grin is the artist's most daring musical departure and arguably greatest achievement to date. Mining the rich Tom Waits catalog for 12 of its 13 tracks (the closing is a traditional gospel tune) and bringing Waits himself along as producer has resulted in a stunning collection that stands as one of the best in Hammond's bulging catalog. Never a songwriter, the singer/guitarist/harmonica bluesman has maintained a knack for picking top-notch material from the rich blues tradition without resorting to the hoary, over-covered classics of the genre. It's that quality that transforms these tunes into Hammond songs, regardless of their origin. His history of working with exceptional session musicians is also legendary, and this album's band, which features Doug Sahm sideman Augie Meyers on keyboards, harmonica wiz Charlie Musselwhite, longtime Waits associate Larry Taylor on bass, and Waits himself poking around on various songs, is perfect for the spooky, swampy feel he effortlessly conjures here. Choosing from a wide variety of Waits' material, Hammond infuses these unusual tracks with a bluesman's spirit and a crackling energy that practically reinvents the songs, instilling them with an ominous, rhythmic swampy feel. The producer contributes two new tracks ("2:19" and "Fannin' Street," the latter is the album's only acoustic cut) that maintain the creepy but upbeat voodoo spirit that trickles and twists throughout. Hammond sings with a renewed spirit, adding a smoother but no less intense edge than Waits' typical rusty razor blade soaked whisky growl. With his dusky croon and idiosyncratic delivery, Hammond tears into this material with relish, spitting out the often offbeat, stream of consciousness lyrics as if he wrote them himself. Only the slow, ambling blues of "Murder in the Red Barn" would comfortably slot into Hammond's existing oeuvre; the remainder push the bluesman into previously uncharted territory with results that reveal fascinating layers of his own interpretive abilities. An experiment whose success will hopefully yield another volume, this partnership of John Hammond and Tom Waits brings out the best in both artists' substantial talents.

Customer Reviews

Great record, worth your time

Unlike almost all you've ever heard. The Tom Waits feel is undeniable but Hammond is such a gutsy, committed singer that he makes all the songs his own. Very live recording, sounds like your kitchen on a very late-night bender- you'll be glad they all dropped by.

An Absolute GEM

This is one of the greatest modern blues albums, bar none! Hammond and Waits mesh perfectly. The instrumentation is excellent throughout, superb guitar and slide work, and Hammond's voice is sharp enough to cut glass and rich enough to give you the gout! The expressive wicked grin pictured on the album cover says it all! A must have for blues, folk, Hammond, and Hiatt fans!!!!


Born: December 15, 1910 in New York, NY

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

One of swing music's greatest propagandists, John Hammond was responsible for at least partly discovering a remarkable list of musicians through the years including Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, George Benson, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Although these artists would certainly have made it on their own, Hammond's intervention made their rise to fame swifter. As a masterful talent scout, producer, promoter, and an early fighter against racism, Hammond could...
Full Bio
Wicked Grin, John Hammond, Sr.
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  • $12.99
  • Genres: Rock, Music, Blues, Contemporary Blues
  • Released: Mar 13, 2001

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