Hubert Sumlin's About Them Shoes is a refreshingly pure blues recording which comes at a time when others are distorting the genre with various "contemporary" elements. The songs are from the repertoire of Muddy Waters -- seven tunes written by Waters (McKinley Morganfield), four by Willie Dixon, one from Carl C. Wright, and a beauty by Sumlin to close things out.
Hubert Sumlin and Levon Helm, 1999
Dixon's "I'm Ready" starts things off with Eric Clapton on lead guitar and vocals, the drums of Levon Helm, and Paul Oscher's oozing harmonica filling in nicely with David Maxwell's piano. It's bouncy and shows a side of Clapton not often present on his own albums. Sumlin's lead is tasty, giving way to Oscher's equally gritty wail. Waters' own "Still a Fool" has Keith Richards on lead vocals and sharing the guitar chores with Sumlin. It's got that Rolling Stones-ish ragged edge that producer Rob Fraboni knows so well; Fraboni's guiding hand never gets in the way of the musical process that flows across the CD.
James Cotton's harp comes in to spice up "She's Into Something," which features percussionist George Recile on lead vocals and Helm back on the skins. Helm plays drums on eight of the 13 tracks, Recile on four, with the final number, Hubert Sumlin's only original, "Little Girl, This Is the End," closing the set without percussion. "Little Girl" features a charming interplay between Keith Richards and Sumlin's guitars, while Paul Nowinski adds a full-bottom bass to round things out. It's Sumlin's only
vocal contribution to the disc, and that voice swims in Fraboni's mix of upfront guitars.
This particular song was premiered on Holly Harris' Blues on Sunday program on December 15, 2002, a few months before the album's release, and played next to the remastered "Love in Vain" from Let It Bleed, one could see why the distinctive Richards style is such an important component of the Rolling Stones' success. The two Keith Richards tracks as well as the two contributions from Clapton will get immediate attention, and they do not disappoint, but Blondie Chaplin's vocal on "Look What You've Done" as well as Paul Oscher's on "Come Home Baby" deserve to not get lost in the shuffle. Nathaniel Peterson and George Recile also get to take the mic (with David Johansen about to add some vocals at press time), but none of the changing voices disrupt the vibe or take away from the fun. These blues aren't sad, they are charging, energetic performances from musicians who catch the groove and drive it for all it's worth. Maxwell's piano on Waters' "Come Home Baby" adds frills behind the guitars of Sumlin and Bob Margolin, while Oscher's harmonica just screams. It's a stunning blend of tension and dynamite, and one of the disc's highlights. About Them Shoes could have taken the marquee talent and gone for a glitzy platform to bring Hubert Sumlin into the mainstream. Instead, they dive headfirst into what this music is all about, and in doing so have come up with a mini-masterpiece. It's one of those records that can run endlessly in the CD player and keep entertaining. Hopefully it will expand the audience of this deserving virtuoso
--Joe Viglione, All-Music Guide