Albert Cummings’ mastery of blues guitar on his spate of recent releases has helped establish his claim to enjoying the same legitimacy as legends like B.B. King and Johnny Winter, among others, and he’s likewise earned plaudits from his respected forbearers that deepen listeners’ appreciation of the material. His latest disc, a concert album entitled Live at the ’62 Center, highlights covers and a dozen songs from the span of Cummings’ career sparkling with the sort of virtuosity and authenticity we expect from the form’s top practitioners. Cummings stands apart from the pack thanks to his reliance on sharply written original compositions and his talents as a songwriter to bring something of himself to the performances rather than leaning exclusively on a grab bag of tired tropes. Make no mistake, however, there’s plenty of living breathing blues spirit in these performances and the audience latches onto his skill and passion with obvious enthusiasm.
Much of the album is devoted to showcasing Cummings’ often explosive guitar work, but that never comes at the sacrifice of songwriting quality. This is evident from the outset – “500 Miles” serves notice, if it’s needed, that Cummings is far from a blues purist and his vision is liberally colored with a strong rock music influence. The swing from his rhythm section, however, is unmistakable at any pace and his own bluesy inclinations are thankfully never subverted for power chording or hard rock noodling. “No Doubt” continues to show Cummings loaded for bear in a live setting and it’s a number that leaves the audience rowdy and whooping it up for more. His talent for bringing bluesy resonance, rock flash, and solid songwriting into a single mix is tested here with riveting results. Cummings certainly isn’t trying to remake the songwriting wheel with his subject matter, it’s time-tested, but he imbues it with a distinctive shot of personality essential for separating it from the pack. “I’ve Got Feelings Too” is another barnburner on an album chock full of such numbers and hearing Cummings flexing his musical muscle with such urgency song after song makes you wonder if his energy will flag, but it hasn’t betrayed the audience or listeners a single second.
“Sweet Love” has a rumbling Texas blues swing Cummings spices up with melodic flourishes along the way. His vibrato, virtually the signature for any aspiring guitar great, defines a lot of what makes the playing on this number special – even when Cummings is piling notes, his discernment about where, when, and how far to bend his guitar strings never deserts him. The lyric leans a little more heavily than most on longstanding blues images and lines, but never to any sort of detrimental effect. “Lonely Bed”, along with the late album track “Cry Me a River”, find Cummings dipping into “sweet” blues, ala B.B. King, with their dramatically slow tempos. They never sound incongruous, however, juxtaposed against the rest of Live at the ’62 Center thanks to their sound and Cummings’ distinctive playing. The album’s final track runs a hair over nine minutes and features a two-part approach mixing the Cummings original “Glass House” with a cover of “Midnight Rider” from The Allman Brothers Band. We aren’t meant to compare and those who do are foolish, but the two songs do complement one another and the worst thing you can say for the Cummings original is that it isn’t an embarrassment placed next to an acknowledged classic. Some will undoubtedly find, as I did, both performances equally satisfying./ It closes this live album up with an emphatic and extended musical statement and proves a great finish for one of the great concert albums released in recent memory.