Since switching labels to Burnside and releasing the excellent "Boom Chang"
back in 2000, Steve James has continued to keep very busy. In addition to
travelling the globe performing, he has also continued to teach people how
to play guitar at workshops and by writing books and articles on the
subject. Fortunately he also found time to record a new album, "Fast
Texas," in October last year.
Anyone unfamiliar with Steve James immediately gets a chance to find out
why he is so highly rated on the opening title track." The first of four
originals, the guitar refrain is played at a speed that makes you marvel at
his dexterity. James' virtuosity extends to several other stringed
instruments too. On Yank Rachell's country style "Texas Tommy" and Texas
Alexander's "Day's Lonesome" he plays mandolin. He also plays guitar-banjo
on the Blind Lemon Jefferson instrumental "Where Shall I Be?"
James handles lead vocals too, with a little help here and there from
Ruthie Foster and Cyd Cassone. In amongst the vocals are a trio of
instrumentals. The first is the excellent original, "Sukey," where James
plays some fine 12-string slide. The second is Eddie Shuler and Hop
Wilson's "Chicken Stuff," another slide based tune. On the last of the
three James delivers an atmospheric instrumental arrangement of Jimmie
Rogers' "Waiting For A Train" accompanied by Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar.
The theme of card playing troubles is revisited on "Jack O'Diamonds," a
song associated with Mance Lipscombe and Blind Willie Johnson. James
previously developed this theme with "Stack Lee's Blues" on "Boom Chang."
As well as the traditional blues demons of money, gambling, women and
drinking, James also highlights the perils of drugs on a Billy Hughes
(western swing) inspired version of T. J. Arnall's "Cocaine Blues."
The lament "Blues Come To Stay," where James also plays 12-string slide,
stands in sharp contrast to the ensuing, positively chipper "Fisherman's
Reel." The upbeat mood is maintained on Milton Brown's "4 or 5 Times" where
there is a Hawaiian tint to the slide guitar sound. This being the blues,
however, things could not remain upbeat forever, so the mood changes again
for Blind Willie Johnson's "Rain Done Fell On Me." This song is also
reprised in a positively joyous Gospel fashion to close the album in style,
after a Gospel tinged rendition of Little Hat Jones' "Bye Bye Baby Blues."
A new Steve James album is always something worth waiting for. "Fast Texas"
is no exception, and is a worthy successor to "Boom Chang." It shows that
James remains in form as one of the finest acoustic guitarists doing the
rounds. He takes the tradition of the older (mostly Texas based)
guitarists, and extends it, arranging old songs in new ways, and stirring
in several fine new songs to keep the pot boiling. Highly recommended.
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