James Armstrong , in Blues at the Border delivers a set of smoothly funky rhythm 'n blooz numbers unhinging the hipbone jes' a mite in a back-bar juice joint shuffle pretty much showcasing precisely what the fortunate listener's ears are in for. R&B is not easy to handle and rarely anymore sees its modalities so lovingly enshrined. Robert Cray was the last cat to make a significant mark, and if you've been waiting for the next in line, here 'tis. Armstrong's been performing since age 8, touring since 17, eventually sliding in with Albert Collins, Ricky Lee Jones, Mitch Mitchell (Hendrix's drummer), Keb Mo' and a whole lot more.
'Smooth as silk' would be the best phrase to encapsulate this multi-talented individual. Even when lighting up the fretboard, there's a practiced hand mellowing the flames in an aged casket of fine oak, the kind of treatment one would lavish on a good Scotch. Jessica and Jilian Ivey provide triple-sweet background vocals, and keyboardist Dan Freguson lays in a night-time ambiance erupting every so often with just as much class and back history as the quitar lines, but the real front element is Armstrong's voice, neither whiskey nor beer but cognac with a distinctive tang, a world of experience, and a street Humanism that would make Erasmus chuckle, reminisce, and sigh.
The gent also writes with a deeply Southern hand despite Los Angeles birth, and when the opening glass finger lines to Devil's Candy crank up, fog and the pungeant musk of gumbo drift in like a tide zone, deeply accentuated by the middle eight, Armstorng making the most of brevity, packing his solos tightly. Tons of craftsmanship abound but the insistently catchy beat in each and every cut will distract from that until about the third or fourth listen—and, trust me, you will be playing this disc quite a few times once it's understood that, as said, hardly anyone knows how to put the mojo in this style any more. Stow Blues at the Border with your private cache, 'cause it'll be a while before someone comes along to take its place.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles