Nathan James – Hear Me Calling / Natural Born That Way
Sacred Cat Records
2 CD Set: 11 Songs; 40:55 Minutes and 11 Songs; 39:13 Minutes
Styles: Traditional and Contemporary Acoustic Blues, Harmonica Blues
The best way to describe California native Nathan James’ latest albums, Hear Me Calling and Natural Born That Way, is through its cover art: two reflections, as if in a mirror: one light and one dark.
The former is his solo, acoustic one-man band approach to roots and blues. The latter features his full ensemble, the Rhythm Scratchers, along with special guest stars. Several songs (e.g. “Look Before I Leap”, “Doing the Same To You”, and “Look Out Your Window”) are on both CDs. Thus, it’s incredibly hard to tell which version is better, because both are great.
The factor that makes this reviewer recommend one release slightly more than the other is that there are very few covers on Hear Me Calling. Six of the eleven songs on Natural Born That Way were originally done by Freddy Fender, Earl King, Long John Hunter, and The 5 Royales. However, all 22 tunes in total are quite catchy.
As listed in the liner notes for Hear Me Calling, Nathan James performs vocals and plays rack harmonica, foot percussion, National Resonator, Martin 00-17 and Washtar Gitboard guitars. On Natural Born That Way, featured musicians are Marty Dodson on drums, percussion and background vocals; Troy Sandbow on bass, harmonica and background vocals; Carl Sonny Leyland on piano; and Big Jon Atkinson on rhythm guitar. These three tracks are tops:
Track 01: “Hear Me Calling” – The opener and title track of James’ solo CD showcases Nathan’s incredible rack harmonica skills and vocal prowess. The late, great Sean Costello’s ghost echoes here: “Don’t you hear me when I’m calling, baby? Don’t you do no stalling, babe. I need you, I need you, I need you.” The acoustic guitar and harp hooks will ensnare listeners on first ‘bite’.
Track 06: “No No Blues” – Midway through Hear Me Calling is this stellar cover of a Curley Weaver classic. Slide guitar fans will go certifiably insane at how well James plays their favorite instrument. Unfortunately, lyrics quoters might meet the same fate trying to decipher the words (except “I ain’t no gambler; I don’t take no fools”). No matter: this is an old-school party stomp.
Track 03: “Natural Born That Way” – The self-evident title song of Nathan’s ensemble effort starring the Rhythm Scratchers describes a free spirit who can’t help her innate inclinations: “She leave the house about a quarter to six. Follow her down; she’ll get her natural fix. She only have one thing on her mind – never holds back from having herself a time. She natural born that way, just the way she do.” This jump-blues/swing song perfectly combines the cheer of the 1950’s with the grit of this present decade.
Hear Me Calling and Natural Born That Way make the perfect pair to banish winter blahs!