James Armstrong – Guitar Angels | Album Review

jamesarmstrongcdJames Armstrong – Guitar Angels

Catfood Records


CD: 11 songs; 45:26 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Soul-Influenced Blues

One of the most time-honored blues legends is that of how Robert Johnson gained his mastery of the guitar: he sold his soul to the Devil for it. Los Angeles native and now Springfield IL resident, James Armstrong, however, communes with a different source for musical inspiration – four “Guitar Angels,” namely his father James Armstrong, Sr., Coco Montoya, Joe Louis Walker, and Mike Ross. On this second release through Catfood Records (his fifth CD overall), the incredible Armstrong pulls out all the stops when it comes to contemporary electric and soul-influenced blues. Armstrong’s veteran guitar work is consistently lively, creative, and interesting. He has crafted along with his fellow artists ten stellar original songs and two covers (The Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” and a stellar and Soulful take on Johnny Copeland’s “Blues Ain’t Nothin’”), their upbeat and crowd-pleasing energy never fails to uplift listeners. At Armstrong’s side are seventeen remarkable musicians, including producer Michael Ross on guitar and percussion, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, and drummers Richy Puga, Rick King, and Warren Grant. They traverse through humorous blues tales, heartfelt tributes, and heated party songs with the greatest of ease, as they demonstrate in these four tunes:

Track 01: “Grandma’s Got a New Friend” – Co-written by James Armstrong and Michael Ross and based on true events, the song serves as an explanation to a visiting and inquisitive granddaughter who has whispered, “Grandma, who is this guy?” The irresistible earworm explains how the Baby Boomer approach to aging differs from that of previous generations: “Her friend’s a player, but not that kind. He plays guitar, but she don’t mind. He treats her right; he makes her smile. She makes him happy, geriatric style.” Upon listening to the guitar intro, blues novices might think this is Albert Collins’ “I Ain’t Drunk,” but they’re in for a pleasant surprise. Saxophonist Andy Roman, Mike Middleton on trumpet, and trombonist Robert Claiborne play one hot horn “hook”!

Tracks 04 and 11: “Guitar Angels” and its “Radio Edit” – Due to a horrible home invasion and attack he suffered in 1996, Armstrong was temporarily left without the use of his left hand and arm, including permanent nerve damage and finger impairment (“I’m a two fingered guitar playin’ man”). He believes that one reason he’s able to play the guitar again, beyond intensive therapy, is the guiding influence of the “guitar angels” mentioned earlier. As for the divine purpose behind his tragedy, he sings a pensive revelation: “When I became a man, I could play fast, wild and crazy, but the Lord wanted to slow me down.” Supporting James are Jessica, Jillian and Arlen Ivey on sweet and harmonic background vocals. 

Track 08: “Saturday Night Women” – When the weekend arrives, men aren’t the only ones who want to have a good time: “Fellas, don’t throw your lines. They’ll laugh in your face, send you back to your buddies a crying disgrace.” This funky ditty is as edgy as a razor blade and as smooth as the foam on a glass of beer, all at once. Bassist Malcolm Gold, drummer Warren Grant, and organist George Papageorge go all out, just like “Saturday Night Women” do once their work week is finished. 

James Armstrong’s “Guitar Angels” will make soul-influenced blues lovers shout, “Hallelujah!”

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