The West Memphis Turnaround
By M.D. Spenser
Listeners who value tasteful musicianship and quiet originality will find much to enjoy on this CD by the German Bluesman JZ James. With his mix of acoustic and electric guitars and his jazzy take on the Blues, James creates mood poems that go down sweet as honey.
The album’s dedicated to the pianoman Eddie Boyd, who fled America and settled in Europe, helping plant the Blues over here. James counts himself among Boyd’s children – metaphorically, we assume. These 11 originals are marked by great chord changes and intricate rhythms that make even slower numbers toe-tappers.
The opening track sets the tone: a gently rolling mix of acoustic and electric guitars topped by mournful harmonica. “I would go home now baby/But I’m a stranger there,” James sings.
There’s a wonderful jazz-Blues tribute to Nina Simone: “But lady why complain/I believe that the songs you sung were not in vain,” he croons. OK, he says “not in wain,” but Bluesmen have always been allowed their idiosyncrasies.
“Ballad of Sallie Mae” tells of the murder of Robert Johnson over up-tempo fingerpicking on one acoustic guitar and percussive strumming on another.
Most songs feature acoustic rhythm, electric lead, tasteful drumming and upright bass, sometimes in a minor key. But the mood varies, as does the tempo; James always keeps our interest. One love song even has an exuberant bluegrass feel.
If you play this when friends are over, sooner or later they’ll prick up their ears and ask, “Who’s that?” Then spread the word.