Billy J – Rise Above
10 tracks; 46 minutes
Billy J is a transplanted blues-rocker from Philadelphia to South Florida. He’s a Fender Stratocaster playing, song-writing vocalist, with a penchant for bulldozing blues and straight forward lyrics. “Rise Above” contains nine original songs, and one cover song “Cat’s in the Cradle” originally by Harry Chapin.
The album’s production is flawless, and the line-up of backing musicians is jaw-dropping. Billy J, with Dave Fields, a New York Hall of Blues Famer producing, managed to recruit an all-star team of top-flight “name” musicians. On drums, the now sadly deceased, Yonrico Scott is accompanied by another Derek Trucks alumni, Todd Smallie who plays bass guitar. Also lending his bass chops to the album, is the formidable Charlie Wooton, of the New Orleans bands: the Suspects, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Zydefunk and Zabaduo.
Jeremy Baum on keyboards has toured and/or recorded with Shemekia Copeland, Levon Helm, the North Mississippi Allstars, John Hammond Jr., The Official Blues Brothers Revue, Jim Weider, Melvin Sparks, Sue Foley and Debbie Davies among others. The producer Dave Fields steps out from behind the console and contributes piano and slide on the title track. Filling out the studio line-up are J. Robert on steel drums and violin, and Steve “Buzzy” Krist on percussion.
The instrumentation is perfectly suited to the songs and balanced and equalized expertly. The songs range in styles just enough to keep your attention as you play through the album’s sequence, musically the most exquisite track is the original song “She” – with a perfectly placed guitar bridge which floats onto an all too brief harmonized section. Another strong track is “New Car” a minor key slow tempo twelve bar in the Texas style. A great advantage of having Dave Fields produce, is that Fields himself is an extremely accomplished guitarist, as he has coaxed what I suspect is some of Billy’s best guitar playing – and captured the resulting sounds perfectly.
“Sweaty Melons” suffers from teenage lyrics – but is supported by a genuinely and seriously funky backing track, which saves the song. “Boomerang” kicks in nicely with a satisfying fast Texas style 12 bar guaranteed to keep your pulse moving. “She’s Mine” the opening track roars in like the finale of a stadium show and delivers a hint of the classic live shows in the 70’s of Bachman Turner Overdrive – not a bad musical flavor for a new blues-rock album!