Vocalist Cee Cee James might be described as a Janis Joplin inspired vocalist from the Northwest. While her recent studio album, “Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl,” left this listener with a mixed reaction. This writer was more than pleasantly surprised to discover how much he enjoyed her new CD, "Seriously Raw: Live At Sunbanks" (FWG Records). James has been performing for several decades and had a solid backing band of Rob “Slide Boy” Andrews on rhythm guitar and slide; Chris Leighton on drums, Dan Mohler on bass and Jason Childs on drums at a semi-annual festival held at a Washington State resort.
With a few originals mixed in with a bunch of covers James and her deliver a spirited set with some blues-rock touches in some of the accompaniment, but performances that are delivered with a relaxed groove, never coming across as frenzied or hurried. Expecting the worst from an opening rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads Blues,” I was delighted by the nice, relaxed pace of the performance that owed little to Cream’s blues-rock version, or Elmore James’ spirited slide version. And James’ raspy vocals might evoke Joplin, but she sounded relaxed in her delivery without straining. The contrast between the strong idiomatic slide of Andrews and the more blues-rock style of Childs added interest but the rhythm duo were superb in helping deliver this performance. Her vocal on “I Ain’t Superstitious” moves from casual to fervent with which she mixes in some witty spoken interjections as she exhorts her band and the audience to get silly with it. This latter song has a solid solo where Childs builds off the groove.
Then there are originals like “Make It To The Other Side,” with a nice shuffle groove and her two Joplin covers, “Mercedes Benz” and “Me and Bobby McGee,” where she exhorts the spirit of Joplin, although the quality of her voice will make comparisons between her and the legendary singer inevitable. But James’ lively and infectious performances with the superb backing she gets, make for spirited listening that stands on on its own as she places her own stamp on “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” “Nutbush City Limits,” and Luther Allison’s “Living in the House of the Blues.”
“Seriously Raw” is a seriously fun listening experience. Incidentally, some of her chat with the audience is on a track after the 13 performances. It might be interesting to listen to once, but will wear thin on repeated listening. Thus one can easily avoid listening to this bonus track.
My review copy was supplied by a publicist for the label