CD: 11 Songs; 41:29 Minutes
Styles: Mellow Solo Acoustic Blues, Acoustic Folk
In his 2014 article Trophy Fury, educator and public speaker Alfie Kohn analyzed the phenomenon of school-age students getting participation trophies and medals. His main theme was that the anger of some parents towards such awards is misplaced. Instead of claiming that kids are over-celebrated and coddled by receiving them, Kohn questioned the value of competition over collaboration in the first place. Nothing’s wrong with the child; it’s the trophy that’s wrong. Consider the case of Lafayette, Louisiana’s Jim Pharis, and his second album Sure to Offend. Does he automatically win the “trophy” of recognition in the blues/folk world because he succeeded in following up on his debut CD? The answer depends on whether listeners prefer mellow, solo acoustic blues to more traditional (and electric) varieties. If so, the “prize” is his.
On eleven original tracks, Pharis talk-sings about several subjects that concern him in today’s postmodern world. His flat, slightly nasal vocals and sketchy grammar (“Him and me – we’re kind of the same”) will annoy English teachers and voice coaches. Nevertheless, Jim’s lyrics are hilarious when he’s lampooning people and things he doesn’t like. “The Boss Song” and “Gun Rag”, reviewed below, are prime examples of this. When it comes to common blues themes, such as drinking “Whiskey” and running wild in “The Reckless Years”, he could have used more poignancy. Both songs are tragic, as their words clearly show, but their mellow tone doesn’t.
According to his website, “Pharis began playing guitar as a 12-year-old on a 3/4[-sized] second hand Sears and Roebuck guitar that he bought with grass-cutting money. After his parents realized how obsessed he was with it, a new, full sized guitar appeared at Christmas time.
“Thanks to a local guitar teacher who was a devoted Chet Atkins fan, Jim was exposed to the world of fingerstyle guitar. He began delving into the music of Paul Simon, Brownie McGee, Mississippi John Hurt and John Fahey.”
Jim Pharis plays solo acoustic guitar with aplomb on one of the absolute funniest songs of 2015:
Track 05: “Gun Rag” – Our narrator thinks his neighbor is a helpful, stand-up guy, but there’s just one little problem – make that a lot of little ones: “Boxes and boxes and boxes of ammo. His house catches fire, it’ll go KA-BAMMO! There’ll be a hole in the ground like an atom bomb. There’s enough rounds to fight a war. When I ask him what for, he said he might need ‘em down the road.” “Bomb” and “road” may not rhyme, but no one can miss the hypervigilant sentiment. Pharis’ ultimate conclusion is that “Somebody’s cleaning up; someone’s making a buck; somebody’s cleaning up with this Gun Rag.”
Intermixed with these ditties are quirky instrumentals, which might be the best songs on the album. Overall, Pharis is in the middle of the road when it comes to his efforts. According to his promotional note with the CD, it was recorded over a period of two days on a single microphone.
Jim Pharis’ laid-back latest is Sure to Offend blues purists.