Review: Nathan James & The Rhythm Scratchers – What You Make Of It

Posted on: Wednesday, Jun 6, 2012

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Nathan James & The Rhythm Scratchers – What You Make Of It

(Delta Groove Music: DGPCD151)

Here’s a sparkling Delta Groove debut from one of the most in-demand young guitar players around – Nathan James, who originally hails from small-town California – Fallbrook.  He’s been gigging full-time now for 15 years, working initially with Jamie Wood and Johnny Dyer, and really learning his road experience with over three years in the great James Harman’s band. He was also part of a duo with Ben Hernandez that played all around the world, and has also worked with the likes of Kim Wilson, Pinetop Perkins, Billy Boy Arnold, Lazy Lester and Janiva Magness, to name but a few!

“What You Make Of It” contains 14 tracks with The Rhythm Scratchers, together now for some three years, and who comprise of Troy Sandow (bass and harmonica) and Marty Dodson (drums) . . . two seasoned bluesmen who perfectly complement Nathan James’ sparkling guitar playing in a variety of styles . .  the whole album being a showcase for his own creation, the Washboard Gitboard – constructed from a travel size washboard and a carved guitar neck . . . and inspired from his late father’s handyman skills.

The music itself is a lovely mix of various blues styles, with some country and soul leanings, and a joy from start to finish. The opening “Chosen Kind” rides on a ‘hill country’ guitar groove, with Troy Sandow’s tough harmonica to the fore . . . indeed he was a harmonica player before learning bass . . . him and Marty Dodson drive things along in fine style. The title cut follows, “What You Make Of It”, with its soulful groove, or ‘Washtar Soul’ as James calls it himself, and it features some nice guitar on afore-mentioned instrument.

The quirky “Black Snakin’ Jiver” from the pen of Blind Boy Fuller switches the direction, with its ragtime feel and kazoo, and a very live feel which is enhanced by the fact the album was recorded at James own Sacred Cat Studios at his house, with the three musicians recorded together with just a few microphones. Jimmy McCracklin’s “Later On” is another soulful treat, with lovely distorted baritone washboard guitar and backing vocals from the rhythm section.

“Get To The Country” sees more amplified harmonica from Troy Sandow, with  nice picking from Nathan James, and some fine drumming from Marty Dodson – it romps along beautifully this cut! The laid back soul tune “Make It On Your Own” is another gem, written for a fallen musician friend, and really nice vocal from James. His old boss, the legendary James Harman, contributes one of his fantastic ‘off-the-wall’ tunes, and contributes the vocal and harmonica as well – “Rhino Horn” was inspired by a drive through the zoo in Winston, Oregon, with Nathan James tearing it up on his 3-string Tri-tar.

James features his National resonator guitar on the only acoustic track, on the country blues of “Pretty Baby Don’t Be Late”, with more kazoo. The brilliant instrumental, “Blues Headache”, features Sandow on harmonica and great drum feel from Dodson, a master of the Louisiana swamp groove after years with Lazy Lester. The rootsy side of things pops up again on the lovely “Pain Inside Waltz”, inspired by the Cajun fiddle waltz tunes that James likes to listen to.

He calls in a couple of buddies for the next two tracks – Johnny Viau and Archie Thompson on tenor and baritone saxes – for the stomping soul number from Bobby Patterson, “I’m A Slave To You”; and staying in the same territory, his own “First And The Most”. This great album ends with another rousing instrumental, “Tri-tar Shuffle Twist”, inspired by Homesick James, and with Sandow’s overdriven Fender bass emulating a second guitar . . as it goes from a shuffle to a twist, complete with more riveting guitar!


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(Pic: Bryan Snyder)

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