Roots-blues singer Teresa James will be familiar with many from her association with Delbert McClinton (she's a regular on his cruises), as well as from festival appearances and club dates. Born in Houston and now based in Los Angeles, her band the Rhythm Tramps includes bassist Terry Wilson (who wrote most of the songs here as well as plays guitar and produced and engineered this recording); guitarist Billy Watts, drummer Herman Matthews, trumpeter Lee Thornburg and saxophonist Ron Dziuba. While they all appear on this, only Wilson and Watts are featured on most of this with the likes of drummer Tony Braunagel and keyboardist Mike Finnigan of The Phantom Blues Band adding there talents to a number of selections, along with Teresa herself on piano and Wurlitzer Piano.
Starting with the cover of a Five Royales song, "I Like It Like That," one gets impressed by James with a slight bit of sandpaper in her voice that adds to its grit and character. She is a singer, not a shouter, as she ably demonstrates on this rocker with the somewhat skeletal backing of the title track as well as with fuller backing on the soulful "The Power of Need." This latter track is a standout track with nice horns in the backing and Watts taking a crisp guitar break as she sings of yearning of the power of wanting to love someone. "Hollywood Way," has a funky groove with Wilson playing an effective simple organ riff and wah wah guitar riff as she sings in an understated manner about games being played and all our heroes never fade away.
"My God Is Better Than Yours" is an gospel-tinged song about religious hypocrisy, followed by another soulful ballad celebrating her lover, "You Always Pick Me Up." "What Happens In Vegas" has a New Orleans groove (think Huey "Piano' Smith and the Clowns) and takes the advertising slogan as what stays in Vegas to include one's money and one's honey. "Funny Like That" is an attractive ballad with a island groove while "No Regrets" finds her reflecting about having "no regrets about you" although she doesn't make things easy for her man. She delivers a marvelous closing vocal on John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me," as she pleads for her man to give her loving arms a try and have a little faith in her. She plays piano here, while the spare, uncluttered, backing provides a cushion for her heartfelt singing. It is the close on this first-rate album of roots, blues and soul performances.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here is a video of Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps performing John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me."