JOHN HAMMOND at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Monday (April 2). $15. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
on the surface at least, wicked
Grind might look like a new John Hammond album, but it's really a Tom Waits recording.
Sure, that's Hammond's name and face on the cover and it's his voice you hear singing, but the tunes were all composed by his snake-oil hustler of a buddy, who also produced the sessions using his own rhythm section and then joined in on guitar, harmony and hand-claps.
What you get is essential Hammond doing Waits karaoke, with the man himself overseeing the placement of each fractured note, clanking beat and guttural growl.
That's not a complaint, though, because Wicked Grin is unquestionably the best record Hammond has made since leaving Atlantic some 30 years ago. You can bet he's darn happy his wife came up with the idea.
"During the sessions for Mule Variations, my wife, Marla, said to Tom's wife, Kathleen Brennan, "What do you think about Tom producing an album on John?' Kathleen thought it was a great idea, so they went to work getting us together in the studio."
As Waits has never produced an album for another artist before (his "production" involvement with Chuck E. Weiss has been financial support), Hammond got a glimpse of the mysterious Waits creation process. But if he gleaned any secrets during the five-day studio soiree, he's keeping the details to himself, cautiously referring to what went down in the studio in the most general terms possible.
"Tom has a very clear vision of the sound he wants to get from each song, and since all the players -- Larry Taylor, Stephen Hodges and Augie Meyers (who are touring in Hammond's band) -- had worked with him before, everyone was tuned into his wavelength and things just flowed smoothly.
"He wasn't fussy about things like intonation, but how the words were phrased was very important to him because it's connected to the meaning of the songs."
And what was Tom's explanation for songs like Big Black Mariah, Jockey Full Of Bourbon and 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six? Well, if Waits was talking, Hammond isn't.
"There were times when I'd ask, "What the hell does this line mean?' And he'd usually say something like, "Aw, it don't mean anything... just some words I threw together.' That's Tom."