It’s not just about soul-selling. There are lots of good reasons why the blues gets associated with crossroads. Blues intersects with nearly every form of American popular music: jazz, gospel, country, rock, even mainstream pop. If you don’t know the blues, buddy, you’re missing the bedrock.
And standing at that crossroads — with a guitar slung around his neck and great big smile on his face — is the one and only Albert Cummings, master of sound and extraordinary soloist. Cummings knows country and gospel, and he certainly rocks. But every note he plays is rooted in the blues. With every song, he reminds us, all over again, of the essentials.
Take “Need Somebody,” his latest barnstormer. It’s as lean and tough as any modern rock song you might name, and its chorus is as catchy, immediate and irresistible as the best of modern pop. In compositional architecture and its chase of the ecstatic, it makes Cummings’ understanding of gospel evident. When the big man steps to the microphone, the result is pure soul. But the song follows the sacred rules of the electric blues, and it generates the explosive heat that the blues always does when it’s played with dedication and conviction. And Albert Cummings doesn’t know any other way.
When you’re that dedicated, and that accomplished, even the legends notice. Cummings has accompanied titanic figures in the history of American popular music: Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, B.B. King. They’re enthusiastic about Cummings for the same reason that countless blues fans have fallen in love with his music. His guitar playing is alternately stinging and lyrical, fiery, moody, mesmerizing. Most importantly of all, he’s economical: everything he plays has a purpose, and every precious lick is put in the service of the song.
Albert Cummings has also distinguished himself as a bandleader. He’s always led ferocious combos, and he’s inspired his accompanists with his energy, his commitment, and his passion. All of that is on display in the “Need Somebody” clip — a performance video suffused with joy. Though he’s singing the blues, his delight is evident, and it’s infectious as well: both his bassist and his drummer share his enthusiasm. They’re just as videogenic as he is, and they tear into the song with the passion of true believers. Warning: anybody who watches this clip is virtually guaranteed to develop an unquenchable desire to see Albert Cummings live.