East Side Slim
James – Songs Famed For Sorrow And Joy
Samuel is a young talent from who grew up in Maine.
His music is a time-warp of sorts, harkening back
to pre-World War II songster traditions. You’ll
hear shadings of Son House, Mississippi John Hurt
and Mississippi Fred McDowell in his music, as well
as Piedmont ragtime influences.
Samuel’s new CD, Songs Famed For Sorrow And
Joy, features his own compositions set to his guitar
playing, singing and foot tapping. His songwriting
is very fresh, and seems closer to short stories put
to music rather than the random verses about women,
whiskey and gambling so common to the older blues
I found Samuels singing style, a sort of talk-sing
at times and a shout at others, very urgent in nature.
His vocals grab you, pulling you into his songs. James’
vocal delivery is not unlike that of a local St. Louis
musician Matt “Lightnin’ Thunders”
Walsh from the Rum Drum Ramblers. If you’ve
heard Matt sing, it will give you some idea of how
Samuel James phrases his vocals. For a very nice full
bio about Samuel visit his page on the Piedmont Talent
The “Here Comes Nina” Country-Ragtime
That’s a long title, but there’s a longer
one yet to come. This is an infectious little tune,
with a humorous lyric and a cool little ragtime
feel to the guitar work. The guitar work has a similar
feel to Mississippi John Hurt’s up-tempo songs.
Don’t let the humor fool you, because this
girl “Nina” means business.
2. Sunrise Blues:
This song is played and sung in a solo
Delta style. It’s dark and foreboding yet
is very accessible to the listener. It’s also
got one of the shortest titles on this CD.
3. Big Black Ben:
Samuel works the slide guitar on this song. Big
Black Ben had quite a way of getting even with the
local sheriff… talk about your paybacks! You’ll
have to listen to the lyric if you want to know
the full story. Again, Samuel pursues a serious
subject with some sly, humorous lyrical twists.
4. Sugar Smallhouse Heads For The Hills:
Mr. James plays the Resophonic here in a style that
makes you think you’re hearing a banjo, or
maybe it really is a banjo. There is no banjo listed
on the liner notes, but I have found that Samuel
does play banjo. Samuel shows off in his playing
in this tune about as much as he does anywhere on
the CD, but all to the benefit of the song. This
song is a quick-tempo morality tale.
5. Wooooooo Rosa:
Yep, that’s seven oh’s in Woooooo, as
well as seven minutes of instrumental guitar music.
This song starts as a mid-tempo tune, with loads
of tasty acoustic Resophonic slide. The man knows
his way around a guitar! As the song moves along
it picks up speed and complexity, then backs off
again, then picks up speed, backs off, etc…
It sounds like the entire song could be a metaphor
for certain carnal relations twixt a man and a woman.
Actually, that’s exactly what it is!
6. One-Eyed Katie:
Poor old One-Eyed Katie. Don’t feel too sorry
for her though, as Samuel tells you just the kind
of woman she really is. This song is very short,
topping out at just over 1 ½ minutes, and
is done-up in the John Hurt style again.
7. Mid-December Blues:
This song is a slower tempo blues (not slow, but
not quick either.) It’s carried along by a
gentle guitar pattern and world-weary vocal. For
good measure there’s a little whistling thrown
into the mix, too. This is a pretty tune; I enjoyed
it very much.
8. Sugar Smallhouse And The Legend Of The
Wandering Siren Cactus:
No, this is NOT the longest song title here. There’s
an even longer one still to come! Miss Smallhouse
is back, featured by name in the second tune of
the CD. Ol’ Samuel was trippin’ a bit
when he wrote the words to this one. That said it’s
a very cool track. There is a lot of imagery present
in the lyrics, and Samuel’s guitar playing
is gentle as well as complicated.
9. Sleepy Girl Blues:
This is a HARD acoustic blues - shouted vocal, flaying
the guitar strings while injecting slide into the
mix, keeping time with a foot stomp. Samuel’s
Delta influences are showing on this one. Nice job!
This song is a rag, with the jaunty syncopated feel
of that style. Samuel’s guitar technique can
be heard very well here. This track is another winner.
11. Runnin’ from My Baby’s Gun,
Whilst Previously Watchin’ Butterflies From
My Front Porch:
We now have a winner in the longest song title sweepstakes!
Shoot, I had to take a break while typing it up.
The listener is treated to Mr. James’ slide
playing here. He starts off nice and slow, using
the slide to build mood and effect. A couple minutes
into the song things change up, and he shifts his
playing into overdrive, working the slide hard.
This is an instrumental tour-de-force.
12. Love & Mumbly-Peg:
This is another of Samuel’s gentle humorous-sounding
story songs, which of course masks a deeper meaning
behind the lyrics. This is a very nice song, one
which I think you’ll all enjoy.
13. The Sad Ballad Of Ol’ Willie Chan:
This is the set-ender. Samuel takes you back into
a slide-driven Delta blues, shouting the story of
mistreated railroad Coolie. Ol’ Willie and
the other Coolies do indeed gain a final measure
of retribution…this song could be subtitled
“and Robber-Baron Hell”. I like this
one a lot, as the slide really drives the song home.
This tune is a great end to a great CD.
Two thumbs up for the new CD from Samuel James!
This young man is an amazing talent. After listening
to this album it’s very difficult to imagine
that this is his big label debut. Samuel is one
of those talents that comes along and breathes new
life into older forms of music, taking from the
old and adding his own “new” to it,
all the while retaining the viability of the music.
If you enjoy solo acoustic blues this CD is for
you. You’ll hear pre-war Delta influences,
songster stylings such as John Hurt’s music,
Piedmont-style rags, and plenty of insightful and
humorous wordplay. The old STLBluesometer is topping
out on this one folks, as I can give this an absolutely
deserved 5.0. Buy it!!