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John Hammond
Wicked Grin
2001, Pointblank

Shake your bones and have a fer-ly not so nice day says the man with the sinister leer, all to the familiar and unmistakable backbeat of the blues. Stagger and jag down the mean streets and seedy establishments of a film noire worldview of the master. Blend the sounds of one of today's premier acoustic bluesmen and the twisted, world-weary words of Tom Waits and you have a magical mix called Wicked Grin. Listening to this CD, it's hard to see how Waits isn't a bluesman at heart. When Hammond applies his driving guitar, raucous harmonica and expressive vocals, Waits becomes just that. The darkness and desperation of society's outcasts are conjured into a drama that is played out upon your tympanic membrane. Slow shuffles, rocking pounders, slithery off-tempo ululations are played out with an esthetic of hybridization. Stories flow and lives ebb, all to the song of one guitar, the man who plays it and his chosen few consorts. Steve Hodges plays a real skin bass drum, Charlie Musselwhite blows heavenly licks and Augie Meyers tinkles the keys. Waits plays rhythm guitar, except on the sole cut that he didn't write and there his grizzly basso fills in the vocals. Nothin' but sheer musical ecstasy.—Mark Gresser

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