Blues Been Good To Me
James Armstrong was born in Los Angeles, California in 1957. His mother was a blues singer and his dad a jazz guitarist. Armstrong was inspired by Albert King and Robert Cray and early in his career played guitar and backed up Albert Collins, Big Joe Turner and Smokey Wilson.
In 1995 Armstrong released his debut recording “Sleeping With A Stranger” on Hightone Records. Two years later Armstrong was stabbed by a home intruder and suffered a shoulder injury. His dexterity was impaired but he adjusted his guitar style and issued his 1998 follow up recording “Dark Night” with guest guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Doug Macleod; one of the album’s tracks was used in the movie “Hear No Evil” starring Martin Sheen. His third album for Hightone “Got It Goin On” resulted in Armstrong receiving two 2001 Blues Music Award nominations including “Contemporary Blues Male Artist of The Year”.
In 2011 Armstrong signed with Catfood Records and released “Blues At The Border”. He followed up with 2014’s “Guitar Angels”. This is Armstrong’s third album for Catfood and sixth album overall.
This new album is produced by Armstrong and label mate Johnny Rawls. The band includes Armstrong, guitars and vocals; Matt Murdick, who has played with Little Milton, Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy, keyboards; Johnny McGhee, who recorded with Marvin Gaye, rhythm guitar; Darryl Wright, who worked with Mavis Staples, bass; and Andrew Blaze Thomas, drums. Guesting are also John Kattke, B-3 and Will Jackson, bass. The horn section includes Bryan and Corey Fritz and Kasimu Taylor.
The initial tracks were recorded and mixed by Associate Producer Jim Gaines. Included are eight songs written by Armstrong and two covers. The rhythm section opens the title track “Blues Been Good To Me” before Armstrong comes in with his guitar and vocal.
Armstrong opens “Second Time Around” with a guitar riff from “Peter Gunn”. The song is complete with background singers Amy Black and Kimberlie Helton.
“Addicted To Love” is from Robert Palmer. It was a 1986 single for him that reached #1 on The Billboard Hot 100. Armstrong’s version is a good one with the background singers once again providing the finishing touches.
Murdick’s piano intro opens “Early Grave”. The song sounds as if it were influenced by Robert Cray. This is a great performance as Armstrong sings about Elvis and Robert Johnson “you treat me like a dog, like I was your slave, you’re gonna send me baby, to an early grave.” The background singers are joined by Rawls and Mary Jo Curry.
“Old Man in The Morning (Young Man at Night)” includes the lyric “when I look in the mirror, what do I see, grey hair and not as much as there used to be, then I put on my hat, get dressed for the show, I may be an old man but nobody’s gonna know”. “It’s time to walk the dog she’s pulling me down the street, I have to go back home I forgot my teeth, but later in the evening when I get into bed, I got a good woman she raises me from the dead”. This fun tune is a great vocal performance.
“How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” is the Motown Records tune recorded by Marvin Gaye in 1965. Armstrong’s infectious guitar intro into this familiar song is perfect. He then sings it like the gem it is. When the horns and the background singers join in its fabulous.
“Sleeping With A Stranger” is reprised from Armstrong’s debut recording. It is loosely based on a poem written by an old girlfriend.
“It was a Shot Gun Wedding doomed from the start, he gave her a ring she gave him her heart”. This great production closes out this fine album.
The soul blues category is very competitive these days but we better make room for James Armstrong.
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