CD: 14 Songs; 52:28 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Ensemble Blues, Debut Album
When I was a teenager, my parents embarked upon a remarkably ambitious DIY project: repainting the foyer that led to our back door. They had thought it would be an easy job, requiring elbow grease, but not several gallons of it. It turned out that they spent several days stripping layer after layer of ghastly gray paint off the lower part, scraping for all they were worth and sweltering because they had to leave the back door open for ventilation. Eventually, though, all they found was exquisite hardwood. Moral? When you take a music album and Strip It Down to its core, what will you find? Hopefully the amazing art you were looking for. As for Texas’ Casey James and his exhilarating debut, its core is contemporary blues rock with a dash of country. You might remember him from Season 9 of American Idol as a finalist, and/or as a country star who notched a Top 15 single called “Crying on a Suitcase.” However, as his online bio states, “In Strip It Down, James comes into his own by following a simple plan: being himself. Instead of following the expectations of TV producers or the game plan of a well-oiled record company, James collected 13 songs he’d written or co-written (plus a soulful take on Little Willie John’s ‘Need Your Love So Bad’), holed up in a Nashville studio with a trim, crackerjack band and hammered out the bulk of the album in a scant four days.” The result is outstanding, especially for his first rodeo, so to speak.
His biographical blurb continues: “Growing up in Cool, Texas, a dusty town 45 miles west of Fort Worth…destiny was laid out for James at the age of 13, when he got his first guitar. It became a constant companion, a channel for his emotions, as the six strings lay easy in his hands…It was that natural. James formed a band and hit the Texas club circuit, a collection of venues just big enough that it can keep a musician going for years. The band was in such high demand that one year, he played a staggering 364 days. Clearly, he was talented – and more than ready to work. He mixed a few originals in with cover songs, played a mean guitar and sang with conviction. But he was persuaded by a family member that a run on American Idol might put him on better financial ground.” The rest, as they say, is – what? History? No. Breaking news.
Along with Casey James (lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitars) are Rob McNelley on rhythm and slide guitars; Pat Buchanan on rhythm guitar; Kevin McKendree on Wurlitzer, organ and piano; Wendy Moten on background vocals; Tommy MacDonald on bass; producer Tom Hambridge on drums, and the Muscle Shoals Horns. Vocalist Bonnie Bishop and superstar Delbert McClinton is also featured on vocals, background vocals, and handclaps.
The following song is a killer example of why Casey James made it as far as he did on Idol:
Track 02: “Bulletproof” – Delbert McClinton stars on lead vocals, but this song isn’t just a name-dropping gimmick. It’s an amazing display of the chemistry and harmony between these two when it comes to blues rock. The harmonica here is also hotter than a racecar tire’s rubber. “I want to be there in that crowd. I want the music up way too loud!” We all know the feeling.
If you take Casey James’ music and Strip It Down, what you find is a rowdy zest for life, with none of the slow-burning anger in traditional blues songs. However, is that a flaw? Not at all!