Nothing too silent here, as the set's filled with the kind of soulful fusion grooves we'd expect from Hubert Laws in the 70s! The album's a real standout in his Columbia catalog – a perfectly balanced set that features plenty of great work from Hubert on flute, amidst arrangements that also have a bit of a groove on most numbers – never too smooth, nor too commercial – and very much in the spirit of Bobbi Humphrey's excellent late 70s sides for the label. As with those records, there's a bit of vocals here – sung in a lovely way by Debra and Eloise Laws – and there's also a bit of strings here, but used sparingly to match the sweetly stepping rhythms.
Hubert Sumlin arguably did his best work during the 23 years he was Howlin' Wolf's guitar player, and his ragged, angular guitar style was a big part of Wolf's rough-and-ready sound. The perfect sideman, Sumlin was by all accounts somewhat shy and reticent about taking center stage, and Healing Feeling, his second album for Black Top Records, much like his first, Hubert Sumlin's Blues Party, is really more of an all-star blues jam than it is a fully realized project. Recorded May 5 and 6, 1989, at Southlake Recording Studios in Louisiana, with two additional tracks coming from a live show at Tipitina's in New Orleans earlier in the day on May 5, the sessions were once again organized by guitarist Ronnie Earl, whose band the Broadcasters is used on most of the cuts. The vocal duties were shared by James "Thunderbird" Davis and Darrell Nulisch, with Sumlin singing on "Come Back Little Girl," "Honey Dumplins," and the set closer, "Blues for Henry," all of which gain poignancy because of Sumlin's somewhat fragile, whispered vocal approach. A clear highlight is Sumlin's solo electric guitar version of "Down the Dusty Road," which is focused, clear, and intimate.
Primarily known as sidemen, pianist Pinetop Perkins and guitarist Hubert Sumlin, if not as widely recognized as the artists they've supported, do have something of a legendary status in the blues world. Thus, this CD where the two of them take the lead (providing vocals as well) is aptly titled. The material consists mainly of longtime standards such as "Got My Mojo Working," "Rock Me Baby," "Hoochie Coochie Man," and "The Sky Is Crying," all performed with the considerable skill attained through years of experience. If Perkins and Sumlin's approach to these tunes isn't exactly innovative, it is rock solid and energetic, with plenty of excellent lead work from them both. Also notable is Annie Raines's harmonica, which provides solid counterpoint to the two leads, and occasionally takes the lead on its own.
Wonderful sounds from Hubert Laws – and like some of his best CTI work of a few years before, a set that really goes way beyond any easy expectations! There's moments of ambition here that really link the record to Laws' CTI sides – that mix of fuller arrangements and higher-concept sounds that are a perfect fit for his careful tone on flute – sitting nicely alongside more easygoing fusion number that really flesh out the sound – some of those sparkling Columbia Records grooves from the start of the 80s that mix together acoustic and electric instrumentation! The album features Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano from Bobby Lyle, drums from Leon Ndugu Chancler, and bass from Nathan East – plus a bit of acoustic piano from Chick Corea, and guest vocals on one cut from Deborah Laws!