Tom Hambridge, The NOLA Sessions (Album Review)

Grammy-winning blues and roots music producer Tom Hambridge’s eighth solo album, The NOLA Sessions, brought him to the Parlor Recording Studio in New Orleans. Hambridge collaborated with New Orleans musicians, including Allen Toussaint, Ivan Neville and the Naughty Horns, as well as Lafayette slide guitar master Sonny Landreth.

Toussaint’s contribution to the album, recorded shortly before the pianist-producer-songwriter’s death, is an obvious highlight. He not only plays characteristically intricate, delightful piano on “Blues Been Mighty Good to Me,” he joins Hambridge in an engaging vocal duet. The song’s expression of gratitude to music suits the ever-gracious Toussaint very well indeed.

Although Toussaint appears on only one song, Landreth’s multiple guest spots include the blues-rock track “This End of the Road,” the reggae-ish “Whiskey Ghost” and the contemporary-country road song “Me and Charlie.” New Orleans guitarist John Fohl steps in for “Bluz Crazy,” another of the album’s blues-rockers.

As producer, Hambridge’s many production credits include Johnny Winter, Kenny Neal, Mike Zito, Ana Popovic, Devon Allman, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere. His most high-profile studio collaborations have been with Chicago blues star and Louisiana native Buddy Guy.

The NOLA Sessions, like albums Hambridge produced for Guy, features his songwriting, drumming and production work. But it’s also more stylistically diverse than Guy’s blues records. That’s not always a good thing. As natural a songwriter as the Nashville-based Hambridge is, he can too obviously follow country-radio formula.

“I Love Everything” is a NOLA Sessions song that especially shows New Orleans influences. Pianist David Torkanowsky, the Naughty Horns and Hambridge’s popping drums help him summon the influence of Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Wardell Quezergue and other local artists. And Ivan Neville’s B-3 Hammond organ and the Naughty Horns enhance the contemplative “What You Leave Behind” beautifully.

Some NOLA Sessions songs veer far from anything the album’s title suggests. Hambridge’s collaborations with local talent, however, are worth hearing, especially the album’s piece de resistance, his duet with Toussaint.