An engaging primer on solo acoustic blues
I first heard Steve James 25 years ago on his critically acclaimed Two Track Mind album on the regional Antone’s records label. James now records for an indie label, but he’s retained his formidable command of blues played on flattop and resonator guitars.
This collection of blues, rags, and ballads finds James marking his recent move from Austin, Texas, to the Pacific Northwest with an original blues in open-D titled “Seattle Blues.” The rest of the album is devoted mostly to historic blues and folk-blues numbers from such well-known artists as Big Bill Broonzy (“Snake Doctor: How Do You Want It Done?”) and Uncle Dave Macon (represented by 1937’s “All In Down and Out Blues”). But James also digs deeply into more obscure players, like Texas bluesman Henry Thomas, who played guitar and rack-mounted pipes (a cover of 1928’s “Bulldoze Blues”); and Crockett, Texas, bluesman Frank Robinson (“Lucy Mae”). James adds some acrobatic thumb rolls to his cover of Jesse Colin Young’s ’60s coffeehouse favorite “Sugar Babe,” and closes with Johnny Winter’s snarling “Mean Town Blues.”
Over the years, James interviewed some of the artists covered on this recording, and he brings insight and authenticity to these renditions. The result is an engaging primer on solo acoustic blues. (Note: transcripts to several of these songs can be found in James’ instructional book Roots and Blues Fingerstyle Guitar Explorations.)
Watch Steve James perform two songs from the album, ‘Meantown Blues’ and ‘Bulldoze Blues’:
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.