Teresa James – Here in Babylon | Album Review

Teresa James – Here in Babylon

Jesi-Lu Records – 2018

12 songs – 52:49


Originally from Houston, Texas, Teresa James has been based in the Los Angeles area for the last 30 years, and she’s assembled a stellar group comprised of LA’s top touring and session musicians, collectively known as The Rhythm Tramps.

Here in Babylon is her 10th release, and it’s a good one! James’ husband and musical partner, bassist Terry Wilson, is a terrific songwriter, and wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs on this collection, and they’re a wonderful synthesis of roots, blues, gospel, and soul music, seasoned with his own unique sensibilities. Released in March of 2018, the band on this collection includes James on vocals and piano, with Terry Wilson on bass, Billy Watts on guitar, Mike Finnegan on B-3, and Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion. Horns include Darrell Leonard on trumpet, and Joe Sublett on sax. Background vocals are by James, Watts, Wilson, Gregg Sutton, and Jesse Wilson.

The opening track, the soul-infused “I Know I Ain’t Been So Perfect,” has a wonderful funky bass line that flows throughout the song, and James’ Wurlitzer electric piano is a great complement to Finnegan’s B3. Add-in Billy Watts’ tasty guitar fills and a catchy chorus, and we’re on our way. A great opener, for sure!

Speaking of Billy Watts, his is not a name with which I had been familiar, but his recorded work dates back to the early 90s, backing a variety of artists including Geoff Muldaur, Coco Montoya, Eric Burdon, Lisa O’Kane, and John Trudell. His subtle, sophisticated playing weaves in and out of each composition, complementing each track with a distinctive style that calls to mind some of the great session work of guys like Larry Carlton and Mike Landau. Good stuff!

Jay Bellerose’s slow, funky march groove and Watts’ haunting slide guitar propel “Here in Babylon,” the politically-charged title track.  “Give Me a Holler” has another New Orleans rhythm going on, replete with some subtle, tasty horns… and – seriously – where else are you gonna hear someone (successfully) rhyme “Nietsche” with “Peachy”…? Again, great songwriting. And to be sure, this band knows how to lay down a solid groove! The next track “Head Up, Heart Open” marries 70s soul with some tasty Memphis R&B.

On the Sutton-Livsey composition, “I Keep Drifting Away,” the mood becomes more introspective, with some wonderful, subtle B3 sounds weaving in and out of James’ plaintive vocals. “Ground Zero” is based on the well-known Robert Johnson crossroads mythology, and features more of Watts’ superb guitar playing, while “Hold On” has a distinct Motown groove.

“You Had to Bring that Up” is one of my favorites on this collection, bridging sultry blues and jazz with some very clever wordplay and some tasty, understated trumpet playing by Darrell Leonard. “I Gotta Roll” is a rocker, something you might hear in a Texas roadhouse, and the final track, “Find Me a Bar” closes things out with an infectious, swampy, Diddley-esque gospel groove.

Here in Babylon was produced by James and Wilson, and engineered by Wilson, David Grover, and Johnny Lee Schell, and mixed by Ed Cherney. It’s a great-sounding collection of rootsy, bluesy tunes for listeners who are looking for a little more than the typical, run-of-the-mill blues music. Great songs, great grooves, great arrangements, great playing, great singing…

This is a likeable album!  Do check it out!

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