13 songs – 55 minutes
JJ Thames follows up on her well-received debut album, Tell You What I Know, with this release, and it should help elevate her into the upper stratosphere of modern soul-blues performers.
Recorded once again for Grady Champion’s DeChamp imprint at legendary Malaco studios, it’s produced by another rising star, guitarist Eddie Cotton Jr., who plays lead guitar and shares writing credits with Thames (pronounced “Timms”) on all 13 tracks. It’s a polished collection that comes across with an old-school feel.
Now known as the Mississippi Blues Diva, JJ’s actually a Detroit native trained in jazz and classical music. After first performing at age nine, she turned to the blues in her late teens. Now based out of Jackson, Miss., where Malaco is based and in her 30s, she’s an actress and novelist as well as a chittlin’ circuit veteran who’s worked with a galaxy of soul-blues superstars – including Denise LaSalle, Peggy Scott Adams, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Marvin Sease – after touring as a backup singer with The English Beat, Slightly Stoopid and other reggae rockers.
Her powerful voice and natural, never-rushed delivery set Thames apart from many of blues belters today. Her songs are often autobiographical in nature and packed with positive affirmations dealing with love, hope, empowerment and pain.
Joining her and Cotton on this one are guitarist Joe Seamons, mandolin player Ben Hunter, keyboardist/flautist Darryl Sanford, drummer John “Lanky” Blackmon, bassist Anthony Daniels and a horn section of Kimble Funchess on trumpet, Jessie Primer II on tenor and baritone sax and Robert Lamkin on trombone. Israel Angel Torres contributes a spoken intro to one cut, and LaTarsha Sanford and Carol DeAngelis add handclaps on another.
The disc begins with a straightforward gospel number, “Oh Lord,” featuring Hunter and Seamons, and serves as JJ’s plea for help on her musical way. It takes only a heartbeat for the action to heat up once the invocation’s out of the way. “Hattie Pearl” bursts out of the gate. It’s a Southern rocker that describes a big, pretty, large-living country girl. “I’m Leavin’,” a fast shuffle, follows with Thames vowing to split from a man who’s both a liar and cheat. She’s cutting out in the morning, she warns, “the only thing I’m leavin’ behind is you.”
“Leftovers” follows. It’s a soul-blues tune of the first order. Set atop a relaxed shuffle, it begins with Thames assuring another woman that she’s not interested in her man, that she “doesn’t do leftovers/I want my own.” Cotton’s single-note guitar run kicks off “Woman Scorned,” a complaint about being ignored. It flows neatly into “Only Fool Was Me,” which continues the message in the form of a bittersweet ballad.
The cautionary soul-blues “Bad Man” precedes “Hold Me,” a breezy ballad in which JJ tries to solidify a marriage that’s gone through rocky times. Next up, she flips for bad-boy musician from the wrong side of town in “Don’t Stop My Shine.” When a friend tries to warn her, she insists: “I may be a preacher’s daughter/But I’m gonna be a sinner’s wife.”
The funky “I Don’t Feel Nothing” deals with falling out of love before the heart-rending “Plan B (Abortion Blues)” kicks off with child saying hello and I love you before the singer describing the difficult choice she has to make in a clinic visit. The title song, “Raw Sugar,” about a jezebel in a cheap motel, follows before “I Wanna Fall In Love” concludes the set.
Available through iTunes and other online retailers as well as direct from the Malaco website, Raw Sugar will leave you with a sweet taste in your mouth if soul-blues is your bag.