Monday, March 03, 2014

James Armstrong Guitar Angels

James Armstrong follows up his acclaimed Catfood Records recording Blues at the Border with a new release Guitar Angels. It was produced by his good friend and fellow guitarist Mike Ross (and co-produced by Jim Gaines) and recorded in NY at Kaleidoscope Sound with Ross, keyboardist Dan Ferguson, bassist Eric Tinsley and drummer Rick King on most selections.

Armstrong certainly seems to have overcome the nightmare of the home invasion in 1996 that affected his guitar playing. the title track is his thank you to those who helped him. He observes “I still am unable to bend the third finger on my left hand, or use my little finger, but I attribute some of the reason I’m actually able to play the guitar again to my ‘guitar angels:’ my father, James Armstrong Sr., Mike Ross, Coco Montoya and Joe Louis Walker.” Despite any physical limitations, his crisp and clean playing along with his soulful singing maintain considerable appeal.

Songs include the title track (heard in two versions with one for the radio); the reflective Healing Time, written after the recent passing of Mike Ross' brother; the humorous Grandma’s Got a New Friend that celebrates his Grandma and her new lover (and reportedly a favorite among his live shows); Moving to Nashville, a rocker about wanting to move south to get away from the cold New York winters with Armstrong playing  slide; and Saturday Night Woman, with a touch of funk as sings about these woman who look so sharp and second and don’t settle for seconds but take their pick (and he plays some some stinging guitar here on which some swampy organ from George Papageorge).

There are a couple of covers: an unusual blues shuffle reworking of The Eagles Take It To The Limit, with riffing horns: and Johnny Copeland’s Blues Ain’t Nothin’. The latter performance is nicely rendered if Armstrong’s performance does comes off  a bit cooler than Copeland’s original. Like the rest of Guitar Angels, this is cleanly and crisply recorded and performed. Armstrong perhaps breaks no new ground on this release, but that should not deter blues fans from the entertaining, soulful blues performances here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a chance to hear the title track.

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