Saturday, June 23, 2012


Album number, umm, fifteen sees James pursuing the rock-blues side of his stuff, rather than the Little Big Band or old-school blues at which he excels.  No complaints though; as much as I like his roots movements, the guy has a way with the modern side, too.  Plus, you can hear little touches of all his music sprinkled through the album, from the smart horn section gracing Fool For You to the acoustic blues singer behind Shed A Little Light.

Part of what keeps the styles and material moving around is the nice mix of co-writers James worked with.  There's a couple of harder rockers with Gordie "Big Sugar" Johnson, a full five from the rootsy pen of Tom Wilson (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Lee Harvey Osmond), and a couple of softies with the king of melodic melancholy, Ron Sexsmith.  The covers couldn't be wider-distanced either.  John Lennon's confessional Jealous Guy, Allan Toussaint's bouncy hit for Robert Palmer, Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley, and classic British blues number Oh Well, from Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac.  Again, James proves adept at all these styles.  I'm appreciating it, because lord knows too many people make too many long CD's that barely change tempo.

Still, there's good, better, best, and meh along the way.  The raw electric of both Johnson co-writes, Sweets Gone Sour and I Need You Bad, works very well, as does the smart Stones riffin' of the Wilson partnership I'm Diggin', and you can hear the usual Junkhouse-Wilson chords in it.  But Love for Life is just too nice, and kinda sounds like a Bryan Adams album track.  The reggae lilt used on Jealous Guy is a good idea, and gives the song some musical guts, better than the croony, Roxy Music cover.

Another strong point is that the album sounds great from start to finish.  The crisp production lets us hear all the instruments cleanly and with a good deal of warmth.  Everybody is up-close and personal, especially James' vocals, and it's simply a pleasing listen.  Fifteen could be the type of disc to reactivate some delinquent fans who haven't been on board for awhile.

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