Ross Hammond – Follow Your Heart – Prescott Recordings [2/27/17] stereo vinyl, 39:26 ****:

Delta and Appalachian Blues get an acoustic upgrade on vinyl.

(Ross Hammond – solo acoustic Resonator guitar & 12-string guitar)

As a twelve-year old growing up in Sacramento, Ross Hammond’s life suddenly changed. His mother bought a guitar for him. In college, his guitar teacher introduced him to Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. This spurred an interest in jazz, and Hammond started recording in 2003. His early albums included Gauche, Optimism, Sometimes Nocturnal and Effective Use Of Space. In 2008 with Byron Blackburn, he organized the Flow Jazz And Improvisational Music Festival. This free form musical event takes place in Sacramento annually. He has recorded solo albums (Ambience, Antiquite And Other Love Songs, Flight) and as a member of his quartet (Adored, Cathedrals). 

Hammond’s latest release (Prescott Recordings) is an intimate acoustic guitar set recorded at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Sacramento. The vinyl recording (it is also available on CD) is a rich assortment of blues and folk roots music that draws on the deeply felt spirituality and pathos of American musical culture. Side A opens with the Delta-inspired “Sinner Man”. From the reverberating opening note on the Resonator, there is a plaintive resonance that is surrounded by a pulsating, hypnotic rhythm. The slide addition expands the aural landscape. Switching to 12-string, the title track has melodic grace and an underlying toe-tapping elegance that hints at Appalachian inspiration. Hammond’s elaborate, complex technique is ever present, especially on the aptly-named “Whirlpool”. As the emotional intensity builds, the music is swirling. There is a calmer transition at the end. Each song is different. The side concludes with a delicate touch on “Lake Tahoe Waltz” It is simplified, but the slide gives it a boost.

Side B returns to “The Crossroads” on “Life In 3D”. An intriguing combination of rhythmic strumming and notation makes this performance bristle with energy and blues hooks. “Blues For Rusty Moses” is ruminative, but still displays an underlying potency. Hammond seems connected to Americana roots. His 12-string folkiness on “How Does A Monkey Write Its Song?” develops this vibe with gentler interludes and subtle explosiveness. Switching to a breezier, up-tempo, “Blues For Bob Feathers” seems to approximate a hybrid of structures. But Hammond really connects on the gospel-tinged protest number, “I Ain’t Scared Of Your Jail” The somber ambiance has a certain integrity and the chording is unusual and catchy.

Follow Your Heart is a great acoustic album. The guitars are captured with glowing detail in analog recording. The string reverberation levels are flexible with the three mic setup. There is also clarity and precision on the 12 string tones. Organic distortion brings out the unique sound of the Resonator and slide. Echoes on both instruments are subtly mixed.

Side A: Sinner Man; Of Course We Will (Follow Your Heart); Whirlpool; Lake Tahoe Waltz
Side B: Life in 3D; Blues for Rusty Moses; How Does a Monkey Write Its Song?; Blues for Bob Feathers; I Ain’t Scared of Your Jail

—Robbie Gerson