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The Blues Foundation's 1999 "Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame 2009 "Supportive of the Blues"
Nathan James & Ben Hernandez|
Make A Change Sometime
(No record label No cat #)
Review Date: Oct 2009
by Gordon Baxter
The precocious talents of Twenty-somethings Nathan James and Ben Hernandez have been working together since at least 2003, having previously worked with James Harman (James) and fronting their own bands (Hernandez). Now they have put together their first recording as a duo, "Make A Change Sometime".
The jaunty Gospel opener, "Get Right Church," is almost guaranteed to put you in a good mood. It shows that James and Hernandez are a classy sounding duo, complementing each other well, both instrumentally, and with nice harmony vocals. This is essentially a Blues album, though, mainly Piedmont style, with a bit of country and Delta stirred into the mix for good measure. Whilst most of the songs are covers, they are all delivered with a vitality that gives them a contemporary feel. The duo nearly always add their own little twists to the arrangements, rather than just do a straight re-tread. Sleepy John Estes' "Everybody Make A Change Sometime" has some great lazy-drawl vocals from Hernandez, for example, and James always delivers heartfelt solos. The only renditions which fail to come off are "Mama Let Me Lay It On You" and "Converted" where the distorted guitar sound (reverb?) distracts too much from the overall sound.
The duo invited along a few notable guests. Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins adds fiddle to the Mississippi Sheiks' "Please Baby" adding to the authentic old-timey sound, and returns to flesh out the original waltz "The Well." James' old boss, James Harman makes an appearance too, singing and blowing his harp on one of his own numbers, "Here's Your Breakthrough," with more than able accompaniment from the dynamic duo. The final guest is Gene Taylor (Fabulous Thunderbirds) who lays down some very nice piano on Big Bill Broonzy's "Lonesome Blues" and the closing track, "Finished Last," another simple, but highly effective original, which rounds off proceedings in some style.
"Make A Change Sometime" demonstrates that Nathan James and Ben Hernandez are a class act. They provide a near-perfect complement for each other, with James mostly on guitars of various guises, and Hernandez mostly on (unamplified) harp, but also playing kazoo. jug, spoons, and washtub bass. The original tunes on the album more than hold their own against the covers, and suggest that James and Hernandez should have a bright Blues future ahead of them.
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