Rose Colored Glasses Vol. 1
Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps are a Los Angeles-based band, but James was raised in Houston and has been able to mix Texas style blues with a West Coast jump and swing sound for over five decades now. They have received BMA and Grammy nominations across a dozen albums and when a band gets to this level, it becomes increasingly challenging to offer something truly new with each album. So, vocalist and pianist James along with writer/producer/bassist/guitarist Terry Wilson, invited a whole slew of guests, mostly Texas style, for some of the state’s best guitarists.
The core unit for the Rhythm Tramps in addition to those two principals, is guitarist Billy Watts, and alternating drummers Jay Bellerose and Herman Matthews. Guitarists guests include Anson Funderburgh, Johnny Lee Schell, Lee Roy Parnell, Snuffy Walden, Dean Parks, David Milsap, and Nashville’s Yates McKendree and James Pennebaker. Horn players Paulie Cerra (tenor, bari sax) and Darrell Leonard (all brass) along with keyboardist Kevin McKendree are aboard. Backing vocalists are Richard Milsap, Lucy Wilson and Nicki Bluhm (title track). Michael Starr contributes strings on “When My Baby Comes Home.”
James gets sultry on the opener “Show Me How You Do It” with Yates McKendree on the stinging lead. The distinctive sound of Funderburgh imbues the horn-driven shuffle “Takes One to Know One.” The three-minute title track was co-written by Wilson and singer-songwriter Nicki Bluhm who lends her harmony to this standout track that has a punchy, soulful gait with tasty horn parts. Guest guitarists do not appear on “I Got A Love I Wanna Hold On To,” with Watts and Wilson doing the picking as Jay Bellerose lays down an impressive rumba groove above which the horns ebb and flow. The band gets jazzy in the ballad “All You Ever Bring Me Is The Blues” which takes on a noirish feel with James’ stirring vocal, and swelling horns.
Funderburgh returns for the funky “Wish It Into the Cornfield,” taking its name from an episode of the Twilight Zone. Wilson writes about a homeless vet, who somehow holds onto hope with James wailing her best. The danceable “Once the World Stops Ending” calls for better days ahead with Dean Parks on the succinct guitar lead and backgrounds on the choruses. The reggae beat from Bellerose infuses “Everybody, Everybody” as Wilson delivers a slide bottleneck solo, followed by another slide turn from Lee Roy Parnell in “Things Ain’t Like That” which also has Kevin McKendree on keys.
Another standout is the piano ballad “When My Baby Comes Home,” revealing the power and nuances of James’ vocals as Michael Starr wraps the tune in layers of strings. The anthemic “Rise” features guitarist Snuffy Walden who has shared history with Wilson in Eric Burdon’s band. The closer, “Gimme Some Skin” is another high-powered shuffle with blaring horns and a blistering guitar spot from David Milsap as James and company go out in a roar, telling us it will all be okay, a post pandemic rallying cry.
This one has all the attributes that earned James & The Rhythm Tramps a Grammy nomination – strong songwriting, rocking energy from the whole ensemble, and James’ made-for-the-blues vocals. Even with the various guitarist guests, the overriding essence of the core band remains intact. The guitarists add some spice but never dominate.
- Jim Hynes
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