“Blues legend” is an accolade that gets thrown around a lot these days, but in the case of Sumlin, the honor is justified. For more than 20 years Sumlin held down the lead guitar spot in the great Howlin’ Wolf band, and his wildly idiosyncratic style became a key element of the group’s sound. Whatever a song’s mood—brooding, exultant or anguished—Sumlin could be counted upon to summon up the perfect complement to the Wolfs magnificent rasp.
After his mentor died in 1976, Sumlin’s career faltered, a casualty of personal problems and lousy professional choices. With this album, his second for Black Top Records, Sumlin confirms his revitalization. Expertly assisted by guitarist Ronnie Earl, who co-produced, and vocalists Darrell Nulisch and James “Thunderbird” Davis, Sumlin careens through a powerful mix of originals and classics, the latter including the Bobby Blue Bland chestnut “I Don’t Want No Woman” and Lowell Fulsom’s melancholic “Blue Shadows.”
One of the real treats of this session is a solo country blues called “Down the Dusty Road.” revealing a rarely heard dimension of Sumlin’s playing. The track was improvised during a recording break, with Sumlin dropping some of his trademark jazz licks into a traditional Delta-style performance.
If you want blues that offers surprises and goose bumps, you only need look as far as Hubert Sumlin. The Wolf, wherever he is, would be proud. (Black Top)