Basics is the title of the powerful new release by the highly accomplished singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Hamilton Loomis on his Ham-Bone Music label. Loomis was born in the coastal city of Galveston, Texas (about an hour from Houston, one of the blues meccas of Texas) and blessed with musical parents who forwarded their love of music into the fabric of his DNA and furnished kindling to help fuel his musical aspirations.
“My parents had a fantastic record collection and, when I started writing, I gravitated towards what I’d been listening to all my life. I have a huge reverence for the blues and all it encompasses, but I’ve always been fond of R&B and funky music.” ~ Hamilton Loomis
On Basics he continues his quest to stand out as an electrifying, boundary-crashing young star. In the process he strides atop the fenced genre boundaries while repeatedly crossing through the gates of rock, blues, and soul/funk with a smidgen of jazz fragments tossed in for good measure. His vocals are artfully diverse and always serve the songs that he has written. His guitar playing is also all-embracing and Loomis never fails to substantiate his considerable talent with each and every note offered up with a thorough rationale. Basics contains thirteen original compositions, all either exclusively written, or as co-writes which excellently convey his musical artistic vision. The major theme of most of the songs revolves around the trials, tribulations, and rewards of love.
“When I was coming up in the music scene, I was lucky to have musical mentors like Joe ‘Guitar’ Hughes, Johnny ‘Clyde’ Copeland, and of course, rock icon Bo Diddley,” ~ Hamilton Loomis
Basics is the ninth release in the catalog of Hamilton Loomis. His debut Hamilton released in 1994 on his own Ham-Bone label was a critical success, receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Album of the Year. On that release, in addition to writing the lion’s share of the songs, he was credited with vocals, guitar, harmonica, drums, organ and piano, bass guitar, and as arranger. That Herculean feat reminds me of the all-encompassing first solo recordings by Paul McCartney upon leaving The Beatles, and Todd Rundgren after his stint with The Nazz. Much like Stevie Wonder, Loomis brandishes a myriad of talent.
Loomis’s back catalog also includes a pair of fine albums released for Blind Pig Records during his six year tenure in their stable of blues and roots artists. First came 2003’s Kickin’ It, followed with Ain’t Just Temporary in 2007. This association with a top, well established internationally distributed label was beneficial for all parties. The pairing enabled Loomis to robustly reach a greater audience and fostered Blind Pig Records in maintaining its reputation for distinct excellence.
On Basics, Loomis has called on the talents of Armando Aussenac to flesh out his artistic concepts. Aussenac, a Mexico City born drumming whiz who attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, also provides background vocals, and in addition is co-writer of a pair of chief tracks. Grammy award winning songwriter Tommy Sims (Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”) contributes five co-writes and together Loomis and Sims function with an ESP-like chemistry in an exhibition of leading lyrical magic. Saxophonist Fabian Hernandez provides potent exquisite musical support, background vocals, and is credited with co-writing “Come and Get Me;” my favorite cut on the album.
“Sugar Baby,” solely written by Loomis, kicks off the CD and contains sweet vocals, thumping beat, sunny mouth harp and biting/cutting guitar with wah-wah and fuzz-box effects mingling to cut a deep groove. It’s an effective and fun love song with witty lyrics: i.e. “I need an injection of your sweet affection.” The song also serves to shine a light of recognition on the rare disease of congenital hyper-insulinism (HI). In 2015 Hamilton’s one year old son was diagnosed with HI (www.congenitalhi.org) and Loomis, in his CD liner notes, now reports that his son is responding well to medical treatment.
A funkily jutting bass line begins the song “If I Would’ve.” Tom-tom drums and a stop and start rhythm are featured. Hamilton’s voice alternates between R&B smoothness and a heavily reverbed warble. Lyrics concern the regret felt by a person who has missed out on prime love opportunities. Choice examples of how little acts can build upon themselves to create the nadir of a tight relationship are demonstrated. Thus his remorseful sung lament … “If I only would’ve” is a clever corroboration of the adage “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.” The tune is a Loomis/Aussenac co-write and the fuzz-laden guitar found herein is magnificent.
The mid-tempo “Reason” is a love song with a hummable melody and basic, yet effective, genuine heart-felt lyrics. Hamilton’s concise and sugarcane sweet guitar lead just before the three minute mark proves delightful and sunshiny. Loomis provides a convincing plea when he sings “you’re the one, you’re the one, you’re the reason. You make the sun come out is every season. Baby, you’re the reason!” This formidable brand of classic rock developed on this Loomis/Sims tune is another focal point of Basics with a catchiness that never grows stale.
Another one of my favorite songs comes with “Breaking Down,” a ballad of love gone wrong. Loomis projects a smooth soulfulness in his voice; a warm, mellifluous timbre that shows he is a most capable natural singer. It’s one of his most aching and passionately pleasing renderings when he sings “feels like breaking up, when love is breaking down.” Hamilton produces a laudable guitar solo that is measured and dulcet, and to a certain degree reminiscent of the great Robben Ford. The guitar works in tandem with a beneficial basic drum framework. Astute lyrics abound, such as “hard to see the future, when you’re dwelling in the past.” The background vocals add an appealing layering, entertainingly aligning to seal the deal.
The second Loomis/Aussenac composition “Looking Into A Dream” follows with more meaningful lyrics and multiple touches of wailing sax to funk it up. The funkiness is complimented by Hamilton’s occasionally heavily echo-chambered vocal treatment and a pulsating beat. The guitar lead functions hand-in-hand with the punchy saxophone to make this a lightning striking track.
Lyrics that paint vivid pictures in the mind’s eye inhabit the Loomis creation “Getting So Big.” Lines about how fast time flies by and how life’s priorities change with its passage are neatly furnished. The circle of life is divulged when at the beginning of the song the character’s mother is telling him that he’s “getting so big;” and it ends with him providing his own son with the same observation. Stinging guitar accompanies the wit and wisdom on this mid-tempo ditty.
The ultra-swamp-funky “Cloudy Day” contains lyrics regarding a long distance love affair, and the effects it is having on the relationship. Loomis sings the blues with heart-break emotion in his highest register: “Ooh, ooh, cloudy day, ain’t no sunshine heading my way.” A honking tenor saxophone lead established at the approximate mid-point of the song by Fabian Hernandez sends chills up my spine..
My nomination for 2017 Song of the Year goes to “Come and Get Me.” Seven minutes of pure delight on this wonderfully infectious song that contains guitar work that reminds me of Elliot Randall’s essential jazz-vibe contributions to Steely Dan (a band that defied genres). It could also be favorably compared to the scorched with a jazz casual virtuosity that recalls the endeavors of the late great guitarist Tommy Bolin. I love the superbly emotional vocal intensity and the tidy lyrics on exhibit here. The drumming of Armando Aussenac chugs along in a fashionable tight lock-step precision performance with the bass guitar. I could post all the lyrics, but an example is “It’s been a long long time, since you’ve been on my mind/I know what I’ve got to do/These open arms are coming for you/You live inside my soul/Loneliness takes control/But, you know what people say/Every tomorrow brings a new day.” Back to the guitar play: the guitar lead during the approximate 3 minute to 5 minute mark is prodigiously uplifting. The entire song is a masterful display of his axe virtuosity all the way to the final fade out. The musical and lyrical pieces all fit perfectly together like an accurately completed jig-saw puzzle.
The sound of two drum sticks keeping time begins “Love Can Do.” Fuzz-box and wah-wah pedal cries give the tune an appealing classic rock stance. As usual, the intelligent lyrics are ever-present. “She had a way with words that no man could resist/Caught me off guard and knocked me down like a fist” are examples of the word pictures that Loomis and Sims constantly paint with their impressive lexicon. Loomis’ vocals boast a defiant attitude here, and the drumming is sinewy insistent. Guitar histrionics reach a zenith on the mid-song solo. Yet another sure-fire winner of a song.
The most solemn tune of Basics comes with the gentle lullaby that is named “Prayer.” The song begins with sparse instrumentation before Loomis enters with warm velvety smooth vocals. Ideal lyrics underscore the yearning that is life itself. “I keep on waiting/Night after sleepless night/Clock keeps on ticking/But time keeps on passing us by/And all we can do is try.” Background vocals are included on the chorus that plays off of the age-old children’s poem “Star light, star bright.” The second verse “I keep on asking/just what the future might hold/And I keep on hoping/until all of my breath is gone/And all we can do is hold on.” Hamilton’s guitar gently weeps and his solo at the approximate 3:30 mark contains sensitive emotion that tugs securely on the heart-strings.
The self-explanatory title of the final cut, “Funky Little Brother,” rests with a sweaty funk jam accomplished using some eager young musicians (aged from thirteen to sixteen) to convey the sensation and character of a garage jam band. The jam ends and there is a lengthy interval of silence before the “hidden” portion of the spunky-funk track returns with renewed vigor and plenty of poppin’ feel-good bounce. This prepossessing track contains a mountain of shake-your-groove thang vibes.
The naming of the album seems a bit of a misnomer. The release is salient in most every way. I guess you could term the album as basic in that it is “nuts and bolts” essential. The weighty genius is apparent throughout the album. The songwriting is almost nonpareil; comparable to just about any artist you care to name, especially in the realm of Blues. The guitar work is savvy and a technical triumph of tastefulness. The drum performance shows the professional precision that is highly crafty and impeccably fits each song snug as a knife in its sheath. I personally love the clout continually on display in Hamilton’s vocals as well.
On Basics, Hamilton Loomis has achieved a superior standard of excellence for himself. Although at times he does show small traces of his musical influences, he is most assuredly not a musical clone. In the process of his evolution and illumination he has taken his music closer towards his already apparent R&B leanings while still possessing a soul for the blues. He steps up and epitomizes the perfect purring hum of a well-tuned Mercedes Benz. His musical sophistication mirrors that carmaker’s motto of “Defined by style, powered by innovation.”
Track listing: 1. Sugar Baby, 2. If I Would’ve, 3. Candles And Wine, 4. Reason, 5. Ain’t What It Ain’t, 6. Breaking Down, 7. Looking Into A Dream, 8. Getting So Big, 9. Cloudy Day. 10. Come and Get Me, 11. Love Can Do, 12. Prayer, 13. Funky Little Brother
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com