Funky Way, The Price Of Love, Never No More, One More Time, Roller Coaster, I'm Shorty, My Baby's So Sweet, Honey Bee Blues, I Want To Be Loved, Strange Things Happening, Ready Steady Stroll, Lord Oh Lord Blues, Highway Rhumba, Before The Beginning, It's My Life Baby, Can't Be Successful.
I believe that harp man Mark Hummel has just issued his best album ever. From the sleeve details it appears that every four or five years between 1995 and 2009, Mark spent time in the studio preparing these sixteen cracking tracks and if that's right, his evident perfectionism shows on every song. There are no histrionics here and no overblown theatrics - just pure hardcore, down to earth blues from a confident experienced performer at the top of his game with backing musicians that support his every move. Every track is primed and honed to perfection.
In the notes, Mark thanks the greats who have inspired him - Little Walter, James Cotton, Junior Wells and George Smith are mentioned alongside Percy Mayfield, Willie Dixon, Peter Green and of course Muddy and Sonny Boy and there's no doubt that he's done them proud. On Roller Coaster, Mark generates the same kind of excitement you hear on Papa Lightfoot's Wine Women And Whiskey, demonstrating his range of inventive, fluid runs and dazzling dare-devil licks. The spirit of Slim Harpo floats over the beautiful blowing on the lolloping magnificence of My Baby's So Sweet and Lord Oh Lord is a stand-out cut that features Mark's harmonica swooping all around a Muddy Water's-like riff on top of a Sleepy John Estes feel thanks to the thundering snare and kick drums and Kid Anderson's evocative mandolin playing.
Despite utilising and updating the musical styles of his mentors and heroes, Mark's arrangements make every track fresh and sparkling with innovative moves. Eighteen top class musicians swarm enthusiastically all over the music - among them Charlie Musselwhite who plays a fine acoustic guitar on Can't Be Successful and Steve Freund who provides one of the album's hot spots when he unleashes his divinely soulful guitar work on Before The Beginning. I could listen to this solo all night long. Charles Wheal is another great axe-man who provides some superb tone and outstanding rhythmic ideas on a couple of hard blues numbers but, of the guitar kings, it's Rusty Zinn who is the album's secret hero. He blasts out funky, ringing notes on Funky Way, splatters out the blue notes on I Want To Be Loved, gives hard nosed attack on numbers like Strange Things Happening and generates a full blooded tone on the terrific The Price Of Love. For me, he never hits just an average groove on his tunes - his playing is always spot-on.
Retro-active is a well organised and thoughtful blues album from a world class harmonica virtuoso and I just can't fault it.
Review Date: May 2010