Is John Hammond ready to bust a move? For 40 years he has been a staunch traditionalist, an often solitary troubadour keeping the Delta blues flame alive. His engagement with any pop currents was nil until 2001′s Wicked Grin, a fascinating joyride through Tom Waits songs and production, a kind of musical Being John Malkovich.
The success of Wicked Grin has given Hammond the confidence to continue explorations beyond blues readymades. On Ready For Love, produced by another counterintuitive choice — David Hidalgo of Los Lobos — he offers sly interpretations of tunes by George Jones and the Rolling Stones, as well as Wolf, Waits, and, holy moly, John Hammond himself.
The opening tune, “Slick Crown Vic”, is the first original Hammond has ever released, and you wonder what he’s been waiting for. This tale about a long-extinct Ford rolls steady, even if the car itself won’t.
The diversity of styles is, for Hammond, quite brazen. “No Chance” is a souped-up Slim Harpo groove, Waits’ “Gin Soaked Boy” sounds like Howlin’ Wolf covered by the early Stones, and “Spider And The Fly” is an early Jagger-Richards original. He’s in his comfort zone on both Wolf’s menacing “Same Thing” and the 1950s rocker “Money Honey”.
The country tunes don’t come off as well. Hammond bats .500 on the George Jones songs; screwball lyrics sink “Color Of The Blues”, but the boozy lament “Just One More” is a better match for Hammond’s gnarled delivery. Freddie Hart’s lachrymose “Easy Lovin’” has been a lousy song for 30 years and nothing will ever change that.
Those caveats aside, Hammond has never sounded more comfortable recording with a band; this one includes Augie Meyers on keyboards and Frank Carillo on guitar. The road warrior has harnessed new creative winds behind his sails.