Wake Up Call

Hubert Sumlin

Blues Planet Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Hubert Sumlin might be the best-known bluesman that you've never heard of.

The longtime guitarist for Howlin' Wolf has influenced so many musicians' styles, but unless you've really followed the blues closely, you might not have been aware that he has maintained a solo career for some time now. (I remember playing songs from his album Heart And Soul when I was in college radio.)

Now, Sumlin storms to the forefront with Wake Up Call, his latest solo effort. Sumlin shows he can easily be considered one of the best guitarists in an older-style form of blues - the style that is sometimes the hardest to develop a taste for.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Sumlin kicks off things with a touch of slide guitar on "I'm Going Home," possibly tipping his hat to the late Hound Dog Taylor. Sumlin's vocals are smooth, even on the rough edges, and his playing is powerful without being overtly flashy. When Sumlin lets his guitar do the talking for him, such as on "Makes Me Think About The One I Had" and "Let Your Fingers Do The Talkin'", the formula clicks quite well. A solid backing band, including rhythm guitarist Jimmy Vivino, help Sumlin's case.

When the band vamps on one or two chords for the entire song, however, the formula tends to break down quickly - again, Hound Dog Taylor comes to mind. Songs like "Gonna Move" and "I Just Need Your Love" don't hit the target like they could have. In fact, Wake Up Call isn't always the easiest album to get through in one sitting when the sound changes from 12-bar blues to the single-chord vamping.

Wake Up Call still is a very solid showcase for Sumlin - from what I remember, this album is much better than anything I had heard from him almost ten years ago - and his live show is supposedly incredible. And although it's occasionally difficult to get through, this is an album that is worth putting the effort into listening to.

Sumlin might not have all the polish that other blues artists seem to have, but the vibe of this album is genuine. To an artist like Sumlin, honesty isn't in getting a take perfectly with lots of overdubs, it's pouring your all into the one take and leaving it as is, flubbed notes and all. That is a refreshing change of pace - and I'm not insinuating that this album is sloppy; no, it is very well performed.

Wake Up Call is an album you might have to do some searching for, and is an album you'll have to listen to more than once to truly appreciate. But in the end, it's a journey worth taking.


Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Blues Planet Records, and is used for informational purposes only.