14 tracks / 50:16
Though James Day has made the City of Brotherly Love his hometown, his music has not strayed far from his upbringing near the Gulf of Mexico. His years in Biloxi and New Orleans are channeled into James Day and the Fish Fry’s sophomore album, Southland. 20 musicians are credited on this project, but the core of Philadelphia’s Fish Fry is Day on vocals, guitars and harp, Mark Shewchuk on guitars and drums, Ron Baldwin on keys (including the accordion!), John Merigliano on drums, and Michael Massimino on bass. Day, Shewchuk, and Baldwin have been playing together for a dozen years and share a brotherly bond of musicianship that is palpable.
Southland has 14 tracks and with a running time of 50 minutes you can do the math and figure out that the album is not loaded up with self-indulgent 10-minute guitar jams. Instead, you will find a solid crop of well-written original tunes that relate a vivid image of life in the American South (so, it turns out that Southland is not just a clever title). Some of these songs have been in the works since their 2006 demo, and the guys have filled in the rest with newer material that combine together to complete a really neat story.
These stories are genuine and run the gamut from haunts that were frequented in the old days to childhood memories of working on the farm. Likewise, there is no shortage of different genres that are used to tell these stories, including blues, rockabilly, country, gospel, and a whole lot more.
One notable influence on Day’s style is the time he spent in the Crescent City, as there is a New Orleans feel to the opener, “Chain of Pain,” a righteous boogie with hammering roadhouse piano from Ron Baldwin and some slick slide work from James. There is also a neat horn arrangement on this track, and some fine backing vocals from Alisa Anderson and Kelly Vale.
There is a more definite New Orleans connection with Zydeco tunes like harmonica-soaked “Zydeco Boogaloo” and some sweet Bill Nixon fiddle and French vocals on “One Step Des Chameaux.” Have I mentioned yet that most of this album is a danceable treat? Then they move on over to Biloxi for “Festival Time” with the addition of the Wild Bohemian Horns (Richard Orr, Jimmy Parker, and Troy Corley). This song sounds huge, and it would be the perfect soundtrack for watching the parade and downing a few cold ones.
There is also a sweet uptempo gypsy jazz tune included in the set list — “Nat’chel Man.” This one has a vintage feel with the addition of Rich Delgrosso on mandolin, Wally “Alligator” Bechtold on clarinet, and Nixon on the fiddle. This has to be one of the most fun tracks on the album, and the “Fish Fry Jump” backs it up so that the pace does not get a chance to slow down. This includes some cool guitar vamping from Greg Snyder, and Massimino finally gets to tear loose on the bass, which is a real sonic treat — the Fish Fry is the real deal!
When you run out of things to talk about there is always the weather, and there is always plenty to say about the force of Mother Nature in the Gulf Coast; the boys deliver the good in the wonderfully greasy Mississippi blues tune, “Weather Blues.” There is a raw feel to Day’s cigar box guitar, Hummel’s harmonica and Merigliano’s drums, as if that was all they had left after the latest hurricane!
James Day and the Fish Fry’s Southland is a goodtime conglomeration of different genres boiled down into the American roots and blues tradition. Purists may sniff that it is not the music they are used to, but those of us that love good music that comes from the heart will be more than happy to snap up this CD or download it from the mysterious and dangerous World Wide Web. Check it out for yourself and see what you think!