Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps – Rose-Colored Glasses Vol 1
Blue Heart Records – 2021
12 tracks: 48.27 minutes
Teresa James was born and raised in Texas but is a long-time California resident, making great music since her debut disc in 1998. Teresa is a piano player and vocalist who works closely with husband and bassist Terry Wilson, who is the main songwriter here, Teresa and Gregg Sutton co-writing three each. The Rhythm Tramps is an ace group of seasoned professionals: Billy Watts on guitar, Kevin McKendree on Hammond B3 and Herman Matthews and Jay Bellerose sharing the drum stool. The core band is aided by a two-man horn section of Paulie Cerra on saxes and Darrell Leonard on brass, plus backing vocals from Terry Wilson, Lucy Wilson, Nicki Bluhm and Richard Millsap who also adds percussion to three tracks; Michael Starr adds strings to one cut.
The band’s last studio album Here In Babylon won a Grammy nomination and there would seem no reason why this one should not do the same. The album features a number of guest guitarists, mainly from Texas: Anson Funderburgh, James Pennebaker, Johnny Lee Schell, Dean Parks, Lee Roy Parnell, Snuffy Walden, David Millsap and Yates McKendree. Recorded during the pandemic, many of the musical contributions were recorded remotely and put together by Terry and Teresa, but you would never know from listening to this excellent album.
We are well away from straight blues here, the overall sound a sophisticated blend of Rn’B, soul and blues, aided in no small measure by Darrell Leonard’s horn arrangements. Teresa has a great vocal style, equally suited to the reggae-tinged plea for unity and peace “Everybody Everybody” (Terry showing his range by leading on bottleneck slide) or the Rn’B stomper “Show Me How To Do It” that opens the album with Yates McKendree tearing it up on lead guitar.
The great Anson Funderburgh features on two tracks, both highlights of the album: “Takes One To Know One” is a soulful number with a rousing chorus and superb horn arrangement while “Wish It Into The Cornfield” (meaning to get something well out of the way and a title taken from a classic episode of The Twilight Zone) is a far tougher affair, the blaring horns and Anson’s sturdy guitar work underpinning a story of Veterans coping with the return to civilian life. The title track is another winner, more strong horn work and Teresa’s yearning vocals describe the confidence given by the love of another who always sees the positive in you.
The slinky rumba rhythms of “I Got A Love I Wanna Hold On To” bring out the seductive side of Teresa’s vocals as Billy and Terry both feature on guitar, set against a fine horn arrangement. Dean Parks was, at one time, the most frequently recorded guitarist in the world and he brings all that experience to the soul-inflected groove of “Once The World Stops Ending”, a song that looks forward to the end of the pandemic, Teresa delivering the lyrics in fervent, soulful style.
“Rise Together” is a call to arms for people to make a difference, Snuffy Walden’s stinging guitar attack a feature of this one. “When My Baby Comes Home” is another highlight, a lovely ballad with Teresa’s piano and soul-filled vocals beautifully framed by Michael Starr’s string arrangement. “All You Ever Bring Me Is The Blues” is another fine ballad with Johnny Lee Schell (Taj Mahal/Phantom Blues Band) on guitar and Paulie Cerra playing a sumptuous tenor solo. Lee Roy Parnell adds searing bottleneck to “Things Ain’t Like That” and gospel rhythms meet Darrell Leonard’s wild trumpet and David Millsap’s guitar on “Gimme Some Skin” to provide a terrific finale to the album.
So, why Volume 1? Apparently Teresa feels that she has only skimmed the surface of Texan guitarists and there are more friends who could be asked to contribute. If a second volume does appear this reviewer will be first in line for a copy! Highly recommended.