Low Down To Uptown

Mark Hummel

Tone-Cool Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When it comes to harmonica-based blues, I've never really been that big of a fan. It's not that I don't like the harmonica, it's just that the material never seems to be strong enough for the instrument. This is hypocrytical, I know; it might seem like I'm slamming such artists as Sonny Boy Williamson, Charlie Musselwhite or the late William Clarke. And it's not meant like that; it's just a personal taste.

In the case of Mark Hummel, he doesn't resort to the harp that much on his fourth album, Low Down To Uptown. But when he does, he works some magic with it. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the material is not the strongest.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Hummel assembled a decent backing band for this release, including guitarist Junior Watson (also appearing is labelmate Mike Welch). And the band seems to have its chops down very well, no question about that. The instrumental piece "Po' Man's Shoe Shine" proves this without a doubt.

The difficulty is that many of the vocal pieces are in a slow, shuffle tempo. There seems to be little variety in the speed of the songs. The end result is an album that will literally lull you to sleep. (I know - I fell asleep on four occasions when I tried to listen to this album for review. Otherwise, I would have banged this out back in July, when the disc was released.)

And it's not that this tempo is without merit. Hummel's duet with Brenda Boykin, "T'ain't What You Say," is proof enough that such a combination can work. Other songs, like "Keep A' Talkin'," "Ooh La La" and "West Coast Flood," all do shine. But it eventually is the lack of variety that becomes the Achilles' heel for Hummel.

And then, there is "In A Sentimental Mood" - easily the crown jewel of this set. Taking the old Duke Ellington song and making it a harmonica-piano piece, Hummel lovingly delivers the goods, producing some of the richest tones I've ever heard from a harmonica this side of John Popper. In this case, the tempo and delivery are the keys to the song's success; I don't think it would have worked as well with a full band in tow.

Hummel is, without a doubt, a talented musician, and his backing band members are no slouches, either. But when the songs all start sounding the same, it doesn't provide enough challenge for your mind, and before you know it, you're so far tuned out that you could pick up Radio Free Europe. What I think Hummel has to do is to experiment more with different rhythms and with different tempos just to break things up a bit. The music itself is good, but it needs to be taken to that next level.

Low Down To Uptown is by no means a bad album, and Hummel has every right to hold his head up proudly for his accomplishments on it. But it doesn't erase the fact that the same tempo over and over again is just plain boring.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 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 Tone-Cool Records, and is used for informational purposes only.