Virginia & The Slims – Busman’s Holiday | Album Review

Virginia & The Slims – Busman’s Holiday

Self-Release – 2020

10 tracks; 37 minutes

What a great name for a band! When the Asheville, N.C. band started out in 2013 the vocalist was called Virginia and her husband came up with the name. As time passed, Virginia left to raise a family and personnel came and went, so founder and saxophonist James Kamp is the only original member remaining. The vocalist is now Joanna Best and the pair are joined by Howie Neal on guitar, John Davis on bass and John Barrett on drums; Hank Bones is credited with backing vocals and as ‘Tea Boy’! The material contains some jump blues, some ballads, some jazzy elements, even a touch of latin. John is the main writer with six credits, three songs are by Joanna and Jon Mark Walker who passed in 2019 and to whom the album is dedicated; there is one cover.

“Let It Go” sets out the band’s stall with a catchy rhythm and fine sax work. Joanna is relaxed in vocal style and conveys the songs really well. John and Howie both take solos, a good opener. Paul Simon’s “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” is the cover, re-worked in Mariachi style, which works very effectively. “Sugar Baby” is an upbeat jump tune with strong vocals and great sax and “The Way I Walk” a shuffle with busy drum work behind Joanna’s clear vocals and more of that stylish, relaxed sax. “I’ll Be Back Again” has a brooding quality that reflects lyrics about “when my soul was shattered”, surviving that and ready to start over; an organ is clearly heard on this tune, but is again not credited. The short “Your Money’s No Good” is a catchy shuffle, with some scat singing and harp added to the mix. The oddity is “When Will I Find Him”, a mournful tune with the feel of an elegy or a religious tune, Joanna’s powerful vocal set against just piano, again uncredited. The stark accompaniment is both striking and frustrating in equal measure as some of Joanna’s vocals echo in the background.

The three songs written by Joanna and Jon include “Trace”, a jazzy tune that lyrically deals with the world in conflict around us, but the sight of her guy has left a trace on her heart, a relaxed tune with the rhythm section getting busy to introduce the song. “Push On Through” is a song about perseverance and combines elements of gospel, a hint of Latin and blues, courtesy of the anonymous harp player. Their final song is “Shine” which closes the album on a cheerfully upbeat note with Caribbean rhythms and choral vocals, Joanna encouraging us to “stand up and take what’s coming to you” while Howie and James leave us with two ringing solos.

It is always good to hear original music and even the sole cover here is substantially transformed. The musicianship is good and the generally relaxed style is enjoyable, though some may find the album to lack fire. I suspect that the keyboards and harp may all be the work of main man James, but it would have been good to have the full credits of all the instruments involved.

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