Two-time Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge spends most of his time in his adopted home of Nashville producing records for Buddy Guy, Kenny Neal, Mike Zito and countless others. And, he finds some time to play drums in his own band, compose songs mix records, master records, and balance the various projects that are on-going. In short, he is a master multi-tasker. Somehow, amidst this myriad of activity, Hambridge found time to head to NOLA a few years ago to record there with some of the city’s best, resulting in The NOLA Sessions.
So, on the heels of what could be his third Grammy for producing Buddy Guy’s “The Blues Is Alive and Well,” Hambridge’s timing is perhaps fortuitous. This is Hambridge’s eighth studio album, recorded in The Parlor Studios in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans. Hambridge, per usual, either wrote or co-wrote all 13 tunes, playing with Sonny Landreth, Ivan Neville, and on the opening track, the late great Allen Toussaint, representing one of Toussaint’s last recording before he passed in 2015. Other New Orleans greats Shane Theriot (guitar), David Torkanowsky (piano), and Calvin Turner Jr. (bass) contribute on several cuts augmented by Hambridge’s Nashville cohorts, keyboardist Kevin McKendree, bassist Tommy McDonald, The McCrary Sisters, The Naughty Horns, and Tom’s daughters, Sarah and Rachel Hambridge. The album also has the finishing touch of being mastered at Abbey Raod Studios in London in the “George Martin Suite” by Grammy winner Sean Magee.
The album opens with the signature piano sound of Toussaint as he goes on to duet vocally with Hambridge on “Blues Been Mighty Good to Me.” That’s followed by another unmistakable sound on the third cut, “The End of the Road,” the first of five selections featuring the “Slydeco” slide guitar of Sonny Landreth.
Alumni of the Loyola University Jazz Band, The Naughty Horns, join on the party-going “I Love Everything” and again on the homage to Tom’s friend John Flynn “What You Leave Behind” where all are joined by Ivan Neville’s B3. “Little Things” has that second line groove as it stomps along propelled by just a trio with Hambridge on drums (all tracks), Landreth and bassist McDonald. The trio then renders “Whiskey Ghost” (co-written with Gary Nicholson), which first appeared on Buddy Guy’s album Rhythm and Blues. The gospel track “Save Me” was co-written with Bobby Whitlock of Derek and the Dominoes fame and features the Naughty Horns along with The McCrary Sisters, and a NOLA cast of musicians.
The edgy, more contemporary “A Couple of Drops” features spacey B3 from Neville along with psychedelic guitars of Theriot and Rob McNelley. The ballad-like father and son tale “Masterpiece” features cellist Nathaniel Smith in the first of his three contributions. Landreth enters again for the road warrior homage to Buddy Guys’ trusted bus driver, Charlie McPherson in “Me and Charlie.”
The last two tracks feature mostly Nashville players as “Trying to Find it” (written with Nashville’s Jeffrey Steele) is a country ballad highlighting the piano of McKendree and McNelley’s guitar. The closer “Faith” is driven by John Fohl’s fingerpicking guitar and Smith’s cello as Hambridge delivers perhaps his most soulful vocal.
Hambridge’s vocals would not rank high among his many strengths but he is an undeniably gifted songwriter, collaborator and terrific bandleader who serves up some tasty gumbo from the Crescent City.