Album Review: Tom Hambridge — Blu Ja Vu

Tom Hambridge has a weighty résumé. A 1983 Berklee graduate, much of the Buffalo native’s work has been behind the scenes. As a composer, he’s provided songs for a wide array of artists in many genres, including Susan Tedeschi, NRBQ, Ana Popović, George Thorogood, Johnny Winter, Delbert McClinton, Shemekia Copeland, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere, Buddy Guy, Meat Loaf, Marcia Ball, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Keb’ Mo’ and many, many others. An in-demand producer and engineer, he has worked in the studio with many of those names plus scores of others. His credits as a drummer on those recordings – and, again, many more – are extensive as well.

Yet Hambridge’s releases under his own name have attracted comparatively little attention. After releasing a string of albums as T.H. & the Wreckage, he released his solo debut, Still Running in 1996. A major label set, Balderdash, followed in 2000. Subsequently, every few years – in between his projects with and for names from that vast roll call of marquee artists – he has returned with another solo record. 2018’s The NOLA Sessions marked his seventh solo offering.

As solid as those releases have been, there’s an inescapable sense that Hambridge – a multiple Grammy nominee and four-time Grammy Award winner – focuses more on lifting up other artists than he does cultivating his own career as a recording artist.

Hambridge’s latest release, Blu Ja Vu presents an opportunity for all of that to change. Whether they came to him or he dug into his Rolodex, several big names – friends and associates all – have pitched in to help Hambridge make an album. On Blu Ja Vu, Hambridge does what he does best: write songs, play drums, produce the sessions, sing his songs. But his famous friends stop by to add their signature style to his songs.

Aided by a crack core band, Hambridge leads the band from behind his drum kit. Of special note among those players is rollicking pianist Kevin McKendree. Buddy Guy sings a bit and plays guitar on the Stonesy opener “Ain’t It Just Like Love.” Joe Bonamassa rips up the fretboard (and sings, too) on “That’s My Home.” Kingfish contributes vocals and guitar on “Blues Don’t Care.” Elsewhere, James Cotton, Josh Smith and Chuck Leavell help out.

But it’s a testament to Hambridge’s artistry – and perhaps an augur of his future – that he isn’t lost among the celebrity guests on Blu Ja Vu. The searing Johnny Winter is a plea for the late Texas blues master to receive greater recognition. That and tracks like the ZZ Top-ish “Wear You Out” – featuring just Hambridge and his band – are among the most incendiary moments on the whole set. The record is a cohesive collection that showcases Tom Hambridge’s many gifts.