Thursday, January 26, 2012

James Armstrong -- "Blues at the Border"

James Armstrong has been called 'The Ambassador of the Blues.' He has been playing guitar and singing the blues since he was eight years old, and by the time he was 17 he was touring across the country. "Blues at the Border" is his first release in 11 years, and his first release on Catfood Records after three cds on Hightone Records. This cd was recorded in two sessions, one set in New York with Armstrong's vocals and guitar backed by Michael Ross on guitar, George Papageorge on organ, Malcolm Gold on bass, and Warren Grant on drums, with Madonna Hamel on background vocals and Bennet Paster on piano and clavinet, Rich Zukor on tambourine and Sam 'Bluzman' Taylor's voice is sampled on one track. The other set was recorded in Texas, with Armstrong's vocals and guitar backed by top session musicians Dan Ferguson on keyboard, Richy Puga on drums, and Bob Trenchard on bass. Jessica Ivey and Jillian Ivey bring the backing vocals. Armstrong wrote 4 songs, Bob Trenchard wrote three.

The sound is urban, smooth blues--Armstrong sounds similar to Buddy Guy when he sings, and his guitar sound is similar to Robert Cray--but all this is hinting towards what you can expect. Armstrong is really good. He has his own style, a warm solid 'in the pocket' sense of how to put a song across honed by years on the road. Reminds me of Johnny Rawls, and I mean that in a good way. My favorite songs here are "Young Man With The Blues," in which Armstrong reflects back on all those miles and tells a familiar story, and the title song, in which Armstrong reflects on how difficult it is, post 9-11, to get from place to place. "Reflects" may be a key word here. This is a good cd in part because the writing is top-notch. A lot of thought has taken place before these these great musicians committed these songs to posterity.

You can buy this cd at James Armstrong's website is at

Added Friday January 27--I just found out that James Armstrong is scheduled to play here tonight! He will be at Blind Willie's. I'm going to go!

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