CD of the Month

JAMES ARMSTRONG: Blues Been Good To Me

Catfood Records CFR025 (38:00)

Blues Been Good To Me/ Second Time Around/ Addicted To Love/ Early Grave/ Old Man In The Morning (Young Man At Night)/ Change In The Weather/ How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You/ Ain’t Another Love Song/ Sleeping With A Stranger/ Shot Gun Wedding

Let me set out my stall from the get go, I am a big fan of James Armstrong. Right from his 1995 HighTone debut ‘Sleeping With A Stranger’ I thought he was an exceptionally talented artist, right up there with Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker and others of their ilk, and I can’t understand why he doesn’t have a bigger reputation.

Keith Briggs stated, way back in B&R 107 (March 1996) in a review of ‘Sleeping With A Stranger’ – ‘As far as I’m concerned this is the most striking new blues singer to come down the pike since Larry Garner’. And by a curious twist of fate, James has chosen to reprise ‘Sleeping With A Stranger’ on this new release! With two exceptions, all material is original, penned, or co-penned by Armstrong.

Recorded at Sawhorse Studios in St. Louis, and associate producer Jim Gaines’ Bessie Blue Studio in Tennessee, ‘Blues Been Good To Me’ is a platform for the vocals and guitar of James Armstrong, backed by a select group of musicians who have played with him on numerous live shows. The band includes Matt Murdick on keyboard and vocals, Johnny McGhee on rhythm guitar, Andrew Blaze Thomas on drums, and Darryl Wright on bass.

Regarding the two covers, ‘Addicted To Love’ was written by the late, sadly-missed vocalist Robert Palmer (ok I admit it, I am a fan of Palmer…). Stripped of the electronica of the original, Armstrong gives it a funky r&b approach that works well, nice one! ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You’ is the Marvin Gaye classic, you can’t improve on the original, however with girlie backing vocals and well-drilled horns Armstrong does a great job.

Notable among the originals is the biographical ‘Blues Been Good To Me’, the slide driven ‘Second Time Around’, and the sly ‘Old Man In The Morning (Young Man At Night)’ (wish I was, I feel like a creaky old man in the morning, and an even creakier old man at night!). The tempo is slowed way down for ‘Change In The Weather’, a sultry tale of a relationship gone sour.

Regarding ‘Sleeping With A Stranger’, Armstrong relates ‘(it was) a song originally recorded as the title track of his first album for HighTone Records. I wrote and recorded ‘Sleeping With A Stranger’ in 1995, and it was the first song I ever had any major success with. I stopped playing it in my live shows for the last ten years but I’m always getting requests to do it. I decided to re-record it’. ‘Shot Gun Wedding’ has its foot firmly in the Cray/Walker camp, being a contemporary, mid-tempo blues-influenced number, once again on the subject of a failing relationship.

Yet again, James Armstrong has produced a classy, top-notch album, with a bunch of excellent songs and superb arrangements. My only gripe, why is it so short at only 38 minutes, surely a man of his abilities has another couple of songs tucked away in his footlocker that could have been included?

Phil Wight

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