Nathan James

Hear Me Calling / Natural Born That Way

Sacred Cat Recordings


Blues artists with a great voice as well as phenomenal guitar chops are rare.

And there are even fewer double albums with one disc acoustic, the other electric. (In the blues category, Taj Mahal’s 1969 landmark “Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home” and Nick Moss and the Flip Top’s 2007 set “Play It ‘Til Tomorrow”come to mind.)

When Nathan James couldn’t decide whether to make his fourth release a solo acoustic or band effort, he decided to record and simultaneously issue one of each.

And solo acoustic for this Fallbrook, Calif.-raised performer doesn’t mean just guitar: He’s a one-man band, playing rack harmonica and suitcase foot-drum as well. Alternatively, the second disc features his Rhythm Scratchers trio, supplemented by pianist Carl Sonny Leyland and guitarist Big Jon Atkinson on seven and three tracks, respectively. Both albums were recorded, mixed and mastered by James at his home studio in Oceanside.

The cover of the 5 Royales’ “I’m Gonna Tell Them,” from the electric disc, “Natural Born That Way,” is a patchwork of genres. The song’s verses have a “Blue Suede Shoes”-style melody, punctuated by brief instrumental Bo Diddley-style rhythm guitar passages that lead into gospel choruses — all laid across a bed of drums straight out of the way the Grateful Dead covered Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”  It’s a one-song encapsulation of James’ ability to play several styles, all of them masterfully.

On the acoustic disc, “Hear Me Calling,” his cover of Lonnie Johnson’s “She’s Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight” is one of the few songs featuring simply James and his guitar, which suits the 1930 murder ballad’s dark theme well.

Artists covered elsewhere on the two discs include Curley Weaver, Freddy Fender, Earl King and Long John Hunter.

Taking into account that four of the same James originals appear on both volumes, the ratio of original to cover songs is about 50/50, with most of the original compositions found on the acoustic disc. “Look Out Your Window,” “Doing the Same to You” and “Don’t Believe What People Say” are prime examples of the artist’s songcraft.

Throw in the facts that 1) James played a National Resonator, a 1956 Martin 00-17 and a self-built washboard guitar; 2) the whole affair was recorded direct to analog eight-track tape; and 3) nearly all the subgenres of blues music are represented across both albums, and “Hear Me Calling”/”Natural Born That Way” are indeed winners.gnm_end_bug

Tracks (Hear Me Calling)
1. Hear Me Calling
2. Look Before I Leap
3. Still I Wanna Know
4. Doing The Same To You
5. Baby Where Did You Go?
6. No No Blues
7. She’s Making Whoopee In Hell Tonight
8. Look Out Your Window
9. Don’t Believe What People Say
10. She Don’t Make A Scene
11. I Know I’ve Got Religion

Total time: 40:51

Tracks (Natural Born That Way)
1. I’m Gonna Leave
2. Look Out Your Window
3. Natural Born That Way
4. Look Before I Leap
5. Take You Back Home
6. Doing The Same To You
7. Ride With Me Baby
8. It Must Have Been Love
9. I’m Gonna Tell Them
10. Cow Pies
11. Don’t Believe What People Say

Total time: 39:07

External links
artist’s website
CD Baby
iTunes Store


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Bill Frisell

Guitar in the Space Age!


frisellIn a modernization of the electric-guitar/steel-guitar format pioneered by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant in the ’50s, Bill Frisell — aided by Greg Leisz on pedal steel, lap steel and slide guitar — puts a laidback spin on an instrumental collection of early ’60s guitar music that inspired him as a kid.

It’s always been hard to tell whether guitar hero Frisell’s pigeonhole is Americana with a hint of avant-garde or vice versa. But since this set is space-age music, the debate is rendered pointless. Leisz’s as-always ethereal slide is invaluable in setting the scene, exemplified best on the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You,” in which the two break away at midpoint to simulate Jerry Garcia accompanying himself on pedal steel, then morph briefly into Neil Young hanging ten with Crazy Horse before floating away on a stream of subconsciousness.

Speaking of surf, there are two types represented here: instrumental surf rock (the Chantays’ “Pipeline”) and vocal surf pop (the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl”), in surreal and dreamy versions, respectively. Also present is “Baja,” a reverb-soaked, whammy bar workout on the minor hit for the Astronauts. As well, there are a handful of not-quite-surf tracks, specifically Link Wray’s “Rumble,” Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” and the Tornados’ “Telstar,” the last of which is set up by one of two original Frisell compositions, “Lift Off.”

For country and folk aficionados, there’s a Charlie Christian-style take on Merle Travis’ “Cannonball Rag” and a Telecaster-Jazzmaster takeover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Of course, no electric-guitar/steel-guitar instrumental album would be worth its salt without tributes to the afore-mentioned West and Bryant. Hence, the spaciness of “Reflections From the Moon” (from West’s 1962 LP “Guitar Spectacular”) and loopiness of “Bryant’s Boogie” (his first feature side, from a 1950 78 with Cliffie Stone’s Band) become even more so here in the hands of the Nostalgia Bros.gnm_end_bug

1. Pipeline
2. Turn, Turn, Turn
3. Messin’ with the Kid
4. Surfer Girl
5. Rumble
6. Shortest Day
7. Rebel Rouser
8. Baja
9. Cannonball Rag
10. Tired of Waiting for You
11. Reflections From the Moon
12. Bryant’s Boogie
13. Lift Off
14. Telstar

Total time: 55:08

External links
artist’s website
iTunes store

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Eric Clapton & Friends

The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale


claptonThe first question one might ask upon discovering Eric Clapton has released a heartfelt J.J. Cale tribute one year after Cale’s passing July 26, 2013, would be: How closely did the Oklahoman’s No. 1 disciple hew to that remarkably nonchalant, front-porch sound?

As closely as possible. In fact, it seems oxymoronic but state-of-the art technology was used to recreate Cale’s down-to-earth style. “We did a lot of things where (co-producer) Simon (Climie) would put a Pro Tools (computer) program on top of John’s songs,” Clapton said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “And, bit by bit, we put layers of stuff on, keyboards, guitars, drums, and take John out, so a facsimile was created. And we’d play with that, with the key and length of the track. It would be the same; we just replaced all the instruments. And where appropriate, we’d match what he’d done to try to emulate that and let the moment and the personality (of the guest musicians) take over. I try to sing like John, but I still felt we got to a place where we achieved other things.”

On “Lies,” Clapton’s and John Mayer’s tandem vocals are given equal preference mix-wise, and together they almost sound like one person who sounds a lot like Cale. Other effects are used elsewhere, as on “Cajun Moon,” where Clapton sings alone but overdubs background vocals. And on songs like “Someday,” featuring Mark Knopfler, a guest vocalist handles lead vocals.

Besides Knopfler and Mayer, guest vocalists are Tom Petty; fellow Oklahoman Don White; Willie Nelson; and Cale’s widow, Christine Lakeland. Other guitarists in addition to Clapton are Knopfler; Mayer; Nelson; White; revered Memphis session great Reggie Young; Derek Trucks; Albert Lee; David Lindley; Don Preston; Lakeland; Doyle Bramhall II; and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz.

Three songs are based on unreleased Cale demos: the aforementioned “Someday”; the Nelson-sung “Songbird,” featuring Lindley on lap steel and Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael on harmonica; and “Train to Nowhere,” boasting a three-way vocal share by Knopfler, Clapton and White, not to mention four guitarists in Knopfler, Clapton, White and Preston (who recorded with Leon Russell in the ’70s on Shelter Records, which released Cale’s first five albums ). Another obscure composition is the Clapton-sung “Since You Said Goodbye,” from a 1973 Bradley’s Barn session and issued in 2007 on Cale’s “Rewind” outtakes compilation.

Among many standouts are the sole non-Cale-penned “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me”), an early hit for Ray Price that gives Clapton an excuse to play dobro; “The Old Man and Me,” Petty’s lead-vocal turn and perhaps the best illustration of Cale’s laid-back singing, boosted by Leisz’s ethereal pedal steel; “Starbound,” another Nelson-sung tune that has the added benefit of Trucks’ slide and Leisz’s steel; and the sendoff “Crying Eyes,” a word-for-word duet between Clapton and Lakeland with a concise slide solo by Trucks at the end.gnm_end_bug


1. Call Me The Breeze (vocals Eric Clapton)
2. Rock And Roll Records (vocals Eric Clapton & Tom Petty)
3. Someday (vocals Mark Knopfler)
4. Lies (vocals John Mayer & Eric Clapton)
5. Sensitive Kind (vocals Don White)
6. Cajun Moon (vocals Eric Clapton)
7. Magnolia (vocals John Mayer)
8. I Got The Same Old Blues (vocals Tom Petty & Eric Clapton)
9. Songbird (vocals Willie Nelson)
10. Since You Said Goodbye (vocals Eric Clapton)
11. I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me) (vocals Don White)
12. The Old Man And Me (vocals Tom Petty)
13. Train To Nowhere (vocals Mark Knopfler, Don White & Eric Clapton)
14. Starbound (vocals Willie Nelson)
15. Don’t Wait (vocals Eric Clapton & John Mayer)
16. Crying Eyes (vocals Eric Clapton & Christine Lakeland)

Total time: 51:28

External links
J.J. Cale’s website
Eric Clapton’s website
iTunes Store

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Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin

Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy

Yep Roc

alvinsThree decades after their last full album together (the Blasters’ 1985 “Hard Line”), the Alvin brothers are making beautiful “American Music” together again, thanks to a near-death experience and the “entrance drug into prewar blues.”

A couple of years ago, Phil Alvin’s throat became so swollen after a Blasters show in Spain that he needed an emergency tracheotomy. At the hospital, according to his account in the Blasters Newsletter, an intern “clubbed my heart back from a flatline TWICE.” Ultimately an abscessed tooth was found to be the culprit, and the singer recovered with vocal cords intact.

Prior to this, the brothers had recorded their first song together since guitarist/songwriter Dave Alvin left the Blasters for a solo career: a duet called “What’s Up With Your Brother?” on Dave’s 2011 album “Eleven Eleven.” After Phil’s 2012 health scare, they reunited again in 2013 for the soundtrack of a Stephen King/John Mellencamp musical, “The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.” Then, in November, they started work on an EP of songs by “shared musical square one” Big Bill Broonzy.

“Big Bill … was the entrance drug into prewar blues,” Dave told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s the record Phil came home with that was all late-’30s recordings, and that was an eye-opening thing.” Work on the EP went so well that the project was expanded to an album.

For about half the songs on “Common Ground,” the Alvins are backed by LA session players Bob Glaub on bass and Don Heffington on drums. The other half is Dave’s touring band, the Guilty Ones — bassist Brad Fordham and drummer Lisa Pankratz (sans guitarist Chris Miller) — plus former Blaster Gene Taylor on piano. Phil and Dave share vocal and guitar duties, with Phil also playing harmonica.

Far from a note-by-note exercise drawing upon the Broonzy songbook, the album displays all the styles employed during the artist’s 30-year recording career (country blues, ragtime, early Chicago blues, swing, jump blues and folk) but often features one style being used to interpret a song originally done in another. In one instance, two songs are combined: The guitar melody of 1932’s “Long Tall Mama” is grafted onto the lyrics of 1941’s “All by Myself.”

“Truckin’ Little Woman,” a 1938 boogie-woogie number, is given a West Coast blues treatment to great effect. So are “I Feel So Good” and “Southern Flood Blues,” the latter benefiting from Phil’s authoritative harp playing (he took lessons from Sonny Terry, after all) .

In the acoustic realm, highlights include “How You Want It Done?”; “Big Bill Blues”; the instrumental “Saturday Night Rub”; and Broonzy’s best-known composition, “Key to the Highway.”

An added attraction for audiophiles: stellar engineering by Craig Parker Adams at his Winslow Ct. Studio in Los Angeles (Carlos Guitarlos, the Knitters, Stan Ridgeway, Peter Case, Steve Earl) and Joe Gastwirt’s impeccable mastering.gnm_end_bug

1. All By Myself
2. I Feel So Good
3. How You Want It Done?
4. Southern Flood Blues
5. Big Bill Blues
6. Key To The Highway
7. Tomorrow
8. Just A Dream
9. You’ve Changed
10. Stuff They Call Money
11. Truckin’ Little Woman
12. Saturday Night Rub

Total time: 42:39

External links:
dissertation on Big Bill Broonzy
Dave Alvin’s website
iTunes Store

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Charlie Daniels Band

Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan

Blue Hat

danielsFor anyone who’s lost touch with Charlie Daniels over the past few decades, now’s a good time to check him out again.

Inspired after providing music on period instruments for AMC’s transcontinental-railroad-era “Hell on Wheels,” the Charlie Daniels Band went full steam ahead with “Off the Grid,” an acoustic take on a set of Dylan covers.

Daniels has a long-ago connection with Dylan: In 1969-70, he played guitar and bass at sessions for Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline,” “Self-Portrait” and “New Morning” albums. As a last-minute replacement for a guitarist during the recording of “Skyline,” he played so well that Dylan insisted he be used as a guitarist for the rest of the sessions. Daniels has credited the experience as giving him the confidence to start writing songs, some of which were covered by Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette, which in turn led him to start a solo career.

“I was not naive enough to think I could swim in the same stream as Dylan, try to emulate what he had done or cop his licks,” Daniels says in the album’s press release. “Nobody could do that, but my ambitions were to provoke some thought, to color the imagery of my songs, to think outside the box of conformity” — all of which he is still doing on “Off the Grid.”

As far as “acoustic” albums go, this is the real deal, with nary an electric bass or electronic keyboards. It’s just the Charlie Daniels Band, which since keyboardist Joel “Taz” DiGregorio’s death in 2011 has been Daniels — acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle; Pat McDonald — drums, congas, shaker, tambourine; Charlie Hayward — acoustic bass; Bruce Brown — acoustic guitar, mandolin, dobro, harmonica, banjo; Chris Wormer — acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, slide guitar; and Shannon Wickline — piano. Engineer and co-producer (with Daniels) Casey Wood contributes harmonium.

The only song here on which Daniels played on the original with Dylan is “Country Pie” from “Nashville Skyline,” but this time he plays fiddle. Source LPs for the balance of “Grid” are “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963); “The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” (1964); “Bringing It All Back Home” (1965); “Blonde on Blonde” (1966); “John Wesley Harding” (1967); “Self Portrait” (1970); “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II” (1971); “Blood on the Tracks” (1975); and “Slow Train Coming” (1979).

For the most part, Daniels goes with traditional country arrangements with a strong mandolin and fiddle presence. Dobro and acoustic slide also figure prominently. While “Doin’ It Dylan” is excellent across the board, CDB does Dylan especially well on the fast-talking “Tangled Up in Blue,” the  tipsy “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” the nearly jazzy “Gotta Serve Somebody” and the not quite bluegrass “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).”gnm_end_bug

1. Tangled Up In Blue
2. The Times They Are A-Changin’
3. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
4. Gotta Serve Somebody
5. I Shall Be Released
6. Country Pie
7. Mr. Tambourine Man
8. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
9. Just Like A Woman
10. Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)

Total time: 40:36

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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