Nathan James: Hear Me Calling & Natural Born That Way
(Sacred Cat Recordings)
When the great blues and roots guitarist Nathan James was trying to plan his next album, he couldn’t decide whether to go with a full band electric release or a solo acoustic recording – so it’s a delight that he went for the added bonus of doing both! This turns out to be a treat for the listener, and also the unique situation of featuring four of his original songs on both formats.
Currently first-choice guitarist for the great James Harman, the West Coast-based James brings a mix of down home rhythm & blues, swamp pop and more to the electric “Natural Born That Way”, which features, apart from himself on guitar and vocals, Marty Dodson (drums, percussion and background vocals), Troy Sandow (bass, harmonica and background vocals), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano) and Big Jon Atkinson (guitar) . . . it is maybe the presence of Leyland that make some of the music on offer remind me of our own Big Joe Louis & His Blues Kings, with whom he also added piano.
“Hear Me Calling” features Nathan James completely solo, on vocals, guitars, rack harmonica and Skyway suitcase foot percussion! He says in his liner notes he was inspired for this by the great field recordings by Alan Lomax, Chris Strachwitz and Dr. Harry Oster; and his recordings were done in the dining room of Sacred Cat Studios direct to analog reel to reel tape.
The two releases are a joy from start to finish and the highlights are plentiful. “Natural Born This Way” kicks off with the Freddy Fender tune, the rollicking “I’m Gonna Leave”, which highlights Carl Sonny Leyland’s great piano; the low down groove of the title cut, with its scratchy guitar and lovely ‘retro’ solo; James own “Look Before You Leap” is a classic slice of New Orleans, with more rolling piano and fine work from Marty Dodson and Troy Sandow. The whole band kick up a storm on a great cover of the late Long John Hunter’s “Ride With Me Baby”.
It’s back to New Orleans for a gorgeous take on Earl King’s “It Must Have Been Love” – a standout on the electric album; Troy Sandow gets a chance to show off his excellent harmonica on the instrumental “Cow Pies”, that he co-wrote with James- it has the drive of an early Fabulous Thunderbirds tune, and is complete with some ‘snaky’ baritone slide guitar.
In contrast, as mentioned, the acoustic “Hear Me Calling” is very much a solo offering as Nathan James has a ball on a set of mainly originals and a couple of covers from Curly Weaver and Lonnie Johnson and one traditional tune – the closing “I Know I’ve Got Religion”. It’s very representative of the whole set as James sings his heart out and shows that as well as his electric playing, he is indeed a very fine acoustic picker and slide player. Other treats are the stomping, Elmore James flavoured original “She Don’t Make A Scene”, with the slide guitar and foot percussion to the fore; and, as he says, ” a very distorted” cracker in the shape of “Look Out Your Window”.
Definitely one of the best blues and roots musicians around today . . . and this is a ‘double delight’ sure to appeal to all fans of pure blues and more, and comes very heavily recommended!