Bo Diddley once offered some sage advice to his then teenage blues guitar protégé, Hamilton Loomis. Diddley told Loomis, "Innovate, don't imitate." Judging by the performance on his new live album, Highlights, recorded at several Gulf Coast clubs, including Houston's now-defunct Billy Blues, Loomis should have heeded those words a little better.
As a guitarist, Loomis is somewhat ahead of the more celebrated Kenny Wayne Shepherds and Jonny Langs of the world, who still have way too much fun getting their musical rocks off to let anything as delicate as taste get in the way. While he is just as capable as they are of turning his amp up to 11 and doing that SRV thang, Loomis has a much broader technique, and his formal music training is apparent as he dabbles in George Benson jazz licks and cranks out chromatic scale runs.
For example, he tackles some nice voicing to complement his gymnastic licks in the funky "Hip-Shaking Woman" (with extra bonus points for a segue into "Slipping into Darkness"). But he also tips his hat to traditional Chicago styling in "Everyday Is Sunday," one of his older compositions, which drips with emotion while he alternately feathers and hammers the strings.
As always, the Galveston-born guitarist is equally interested in being an entertainer and a bandleader. He's unselfishly concerned with the overall arrangement of his music, which is why over the years he has pieced together a tight five-piece backing band.
The only drag on the proceedings is the above-mentioned "imitate" part, which comes in when Loomis sings. In trying to straddle as many blues subgenres with his voice as he does with his guitar, Loomis exposes a weakness. He does not possess the rumbling, full-throated roadhouse bellow of, say, Omar Dykes, and his vibrato doesn't cut it. His worst offense is trying to cover more than an octave's range of notes within the same song, as he does in "Voodoo Doll," an original that has everything working for it but his overzealous warbling.
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Loomis would be best advised to stick to his true range, as he does on "Suspicions," in which he doesn't try to sound like Buddy Guy or, heck, even Duke Robillard, and just lets the words (and the air in his lungs) flow naturally.