The Bush League – James RiVAh | Album Review

The Bush League – James RiVAh

Self-produced CD

12 songs – 56 minutes

Based out of Richmond, Va., along the banks of the James River, The Bush League are 11-year veterans of the modern Southern chittlin circuit who deliver their own commanding version of soul blues that incorporates Hill Country and rock stylings into a pleasing mix that they like to call “Mississippi meets Memphis.”

This release – the fifth CD in the band’s catalog – was recorded at one of the most famed recording complexes on the planet, the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, and delivers a hard-hitting mix of 10 originals and two covers that don’t hold back anything as they deliver several love tunes as well as a couple of easy-to-understand messages about issues affecting the world today – all wrapped within music that will definitely keep you up and dancing.

The band formed in 2007 when powerful baritone vocalist JohnJason Cecil and driving bassist Royce Folks started jamming on a porch in the neighboring countryside. Cecil and founding guitarist Shane Parch competed as a duo at the 2010 International Blues Challenge and the full band participated the next two years, representing three different blues societies in the process. Known for their energetic live performance, they’ve become regional favorites at clubs and festivals extending to the Deep South.

The Bush League made their recording debut in 2010 with Live At The National, the first of two consecutive albums captured before an audience at a theater in downtown Richmond. Although both are now out of print, they’re available as free downloads from the band website. Their most recent effort was 2015’s Didn’t See This Coming.

A four-piece unit, the band now includes Brad Moss on lead and rhythm guitar with Wynton Davis on percussion and Folks on bass. They’re augmented here by guitarist Trenton Ayers, Jeremy Powell on keyboards and trumpet, Suavo Jones of Ghost Town Blues Band on trombone, Paul Biasca on saxophone, Ari Morris on synthesizer, Vince Johnson on harmonica and Calvin Lauber, Andrew McNeil and Kenya Watkins on stomps, handclaps and hollers.

A driving Hill Country beat opens “River’s Edge.” It’s a rock-edged love song that finds Cecil wanting to take his lady both to the water and to the church to exchange wedding vows. Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Me Baby” retains its acoustic feel, but with a funky, stop-time feel propelled by Davis’ percussion before the mood quiets for the ballad, “Say Yes,” which describes a workplace love affair, but one in which the singer still hasn’t gotten up the never to pop the question.

The beat heats up once for the soulful “Show You Off,” which urges the lady to dress up for a night on the town, before a traditional version with rock overtones of Robert Petway’s 1941 tune, “Catfish Blues,” erroneously credited here to Muddy Waters, who recorded and frequently performed it. “Kick Up Yo Heels” follows with an uptempo North Mississippi beat. “Long Gone” opens as a field holler, but rapidly evolves into an extended entreaty for a lady to stay close through the night because the singer knows she’ll split before daybreak because she’s wearing a ring that was given to her by another guy.

A heavy bass line opens “Hearse,” the most interesting song in the set. Sung from the perspective of someone sentenced to a long prison stretch after following through on the promise to rob and steal for the woman he loves, it’s a plea to borrow the title vehicle because he plans on killing the woman as soon as he’s released because she’s hooked up with another man.

“Tuxedo Blues” is an unhurried request for a ride to the mall to return to return the title suit after being left at the altar, while “Moonshine” comes across as a medium-tempo funk. It praises the homebrew hooch from the perspective of someone driving around in his car and offering it up for sale. The disc concludes with “Cold Shower,” a rocker about a lady who fails to deliver on her promises, and “What’s Wrong With You,” a rapid-fire funk about another woman who still treats the singer poorly despite being showered with gifts.

Available through iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and other outlets, James RiVAh is right in your comfort zone if you like traditional soul blues. While different than the sounds emanating from music strongholds in Memphis, Chicago and elsewhere, it’s highly danceable and true to the beat. I liked it. I think you will, too.

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