James House And The Blues Cowboys – Self-titled CD
Victor House Records
10 songs – 36 minutes
A relative newcomer to the world of blues, James House has a monster pedigree in the world of country and roots music. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that he’s produced a top-notch album for this audience the first time out of the blocks.
A 63-year-old native of Sacramento, Calif., the singer, guitarist and Hammond B3 organ player began delivering his own music at age 18, influenced by Van Morrison, Loggins & Messina and the Beatles as well as B.B. King and Paul Butterfield, whom he saw live at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked on movie soundtracks and honed his skills as a songwriter, signing first with Warner/Curb and later Atlantic Records.
His recording debut came as a rocker with the House Band in the mid-‘80s. But he gravitated to country and settled in Music City in 1988, soon signing with MCA as a solo artist. House’s true impact, however, has come as a sessions player and songwriter, a talent that’s earned him multiple Grammy, Country Music Association and Academy Of Country Music awards nominations. “A Broken Wing,” a tune he penned with Martina McBride, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” written for Dwight Yoakum, and “In A Week Or Two,” recorded by Diamond Rio, have all been multiple million-sellers. Other artists who’ve covered his work are Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Olivia Newton-John and Bonnie Tyler.
Blues lovers know his songs, too. Beth Hart and Joanne Shaw Taylor are just two of the mainstream artists who’ve included his tunes on their albums. And James co-wrote 15 songs with Joe Bonamassa for the guitar god’s Different Shades Of Blue and Blues Of Desperation CDs.
House fuses blues and Americana on this all-original album, which he self-produced at his Cabin In The Woods studio. He called upon a who’s who of Nashville talent to help deliver it, including guitarists Will Kimbrough, Kenny Greenberg (Willie Nelson and Bob Seger), Lou Toomey and Todd Sharp (Rod Stewart, Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton), bass players Mike Brignardello and Michael Bradford (Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock), drummer Crash Jones and fiddle player Eamon McLoughlin (The Greencards and Ashley Monroe).
James opens “Jail House Blues” with a few gospel-flavored chords on the B3 before slide guitar joins the action atop an intense, multi-layered shuffle. It’s delivered from the point of view of someone who’ll never again see the light of day. House’s vocals are slightly buried in the mix, but full of emotion. “Arkansas Woman” is a straight-ahead blues pleaser that describes someone so perfect that the singer wonders why he left her behind. It features great single-note picking throughout.
Dueling guitars open “Ain’t No Way,” a blues rocker that continues the theme. This time the singer believes he’ll never get over the breakup, and he spells it out in a mid-tune rap. The tempo changes dramatically for “Long Way Down,” a haunting number that describes Hell existing right outside the door. Each verse starts quietly, but builds in intensity toward the turn around.
The music’s slow and steady in “Good Love.” It builds tension throughout as House delivers verbal gymnastics and yearns for his lady to return to his side. It’s followed by the rocker “Moving On Over.” This time the singer’s listening to his inner voice and “moving on over to you.” Guitars come to the fore again for “Well Ran Dry,” an end-of-relationship song with an empty bed driving home the point that it’s come to an end.
The mood sweetens for “Gone Again,” a bittersweet description of a far-away woman — the memory of whom is so strong that you can still feel her face. The yin-and-yang cycle continues with “Boomerang” atop a steady boogie beat and concludes with “Ballad Of The Tkings.” After all the joy and pain, House states, you’ll learn to sing like a troubadour king.
Available from Amazon and iTunes, this one’s full of powerful tunes delivered by powerful musicians. While the themes are familiar, the material’s fresh throughout. It’s blues for modern times, and highly recommended.