Album review: HAMILTON LOOMIS – Give It Back

Ham-bone Records [Release date 06.13]

Some artists spend their whole careers trying to nail their sound to label and package it. Hamilton Loomis is a fiercely independent musician who stridently walks away from all that. He even left his blues label in an attempt to broaden the audience for his music, which is rooted in the blues but never hemmed in by it.

‘Give It Back’ owes more to funk, soul and contemporary r&b than straight blues. And with the addition of guest bass player Victor Wooten on the opening track, and a rhythm section comprising session player Tommy Sims and powerhouse drummer Jamie Little, to power some horn heavy arrangements, the funk quotient is higher than ever.

But ‘Give It Back’ is far from being one dimensional. It’s an impressive composite of pop infused soul and funk with a bluesy heart, plus a smouldering ballad ‘A Woman Like You’ that reflects Hamilton’s own laid back style.

Superbly produced by Michael Hedges, who also contributes 6 co-writes, ‘Give It Back’ is Hamilton’s most accomplished and mature album so far. He’s found his own voice and style. And although he draws heavily on some familiar heritage figures, the songs and structured arrangements are very much his own work

He was mentored by Bo Diddley and influenced by Albert Collins, Joe Hughes and Johnny Copeland, but aside from Collins’s funky feel, and perhaps Copeland’s inherent soulful phrasing, you’d be hard pressed to find a salient musical connection.

Hamilton is an expressive singer whose solos are short, sharp and succinct. He rarely wastes notes, preferring to punctuate a song rather than dominate it, accent a melody or simply add a tone colour. The fact that he sometimes plays as much harp as his guitar has more to do with the demands of the respective songs than either the need to extemporise or fall back on the blues.

He is essentially a groove player who writes about his life experiences in the same way we would go about compiling a shopping list.  He is as comfortable with relationship songs as with moments of introspection and he and his band cook up some deeply honed southern grooves that make light of the studio setting.

You can hear elements of Stevie Wonder in his vocal infections and some Prince style arrangements, while the horn-led soul numbers probably reflect his musical upbringing. Hamilton also has an intuitive bluesy feel that makes even the most pedestrian of songs sound interesting, infusing them with a sense of purpose and enthusiasm.

He opens with the hard hitting, high in the mix drum sound of ‘Stuck In A Rut’, which is topped by a great chorus. There’s also a lovely descending horn line and another Stevie Wonder vocal with great bv’s on the radio friendly ‘Eternally’, while the up tempo funky shuffle ‘She’s Had Enough’ is carried by a crisp rhythm track, big harmony vocals and a bluesy harp solo. And it is this ability to colour his songs effortlessly with the turn of a phrase or a brief solo that gives this melodic soulful album its cutting edge.

The title track is also his mission statement. His commitment to carry on a musical lineage, is clear the in the lyrics: I believe it’s true that all the things you give back will come right back to you,  so I’m gonna pass it on right down to you, ‘cos one day you’ll find someone to give it back too, get down’. (sic)

And if treads a thin diving line between poppy funk, an inspired message and a boy band chorus, the smouldering ballad ‘A Woman Like You’ is the perfect counterweight  and provides a welcome break from the relentless funky grooves. It also features Hamilton’s best vocal performance on the album.

He adds an edgy guitar tone and a talk box on the uplifting psychedelic tinged ‘High’. It could almost be Sly & The Family Stone, except that he adds a James Cotton chicken sound on his blues harp.

For the rest, the riff of ‘One More Take’ is reminiscent of Marley’s ‘Get Up Stand Up’, and the sing-along ‘Castle’ is his weakest song in spite of a spirited solo. Happily, the instrumental ‘Peer Pressure’ is everything you would want from a tight band and a killer horn section and it bookends the album with a punchy finish.

If Hamilton is really aiming to pass on the musically historic baton to a new generation, then ‘Give It Back’ does a pretty good job of defining his own take on southern fried, funky soul. Then again he might argue, what’s in a label? **** (4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra


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