Any mention of “American Idol” in a press clip, and I generally run hard as hell for the hills. But I’m glad I stayed in my den and spun Casey James’ “Strip it Down” from one end to the other, and many times since. Because the 2010 “Idol” finalist stripped away any and all trappings and got down to business on this Tom Hambridge-produced album.
[pullquote]The first half of the album rocks like a shit-kickin’ quartet in a side street saloon.”[/pullquote]
Does Hambridge even sleep, by the way? The man’s not only nonstop, but damn near every one of his dusty, soul-rockin’ projects works like the devil. James’ album sure does, moving through a huge realm of excellent, entirely original songs, save one by Little Willie John. Most make a significant impact.
That Little Willie John song? James wraps himself all up in a subtle but powerful performance of “Need Your Love So Bad,” which serves as a perfect interlude smack dab in the middle of two different “sides.” It’s a breather, but a sweat-inducer all at once. The first half of the album rocks like a shit-kickin’ quartet in a side street saloon. “Bulletproof” even features Delbert McClinton stompin’ and raspin’ with James in typical rollicking fashion. Their voices blend perfectly, as James sings with sandpapery pipes as well, but in his case, coated in honey. The also incredibly ubiquitous Kevin McKendree rolls the piano keys with all kinds of finesse and soul here, and throughout the album.
James plays guitar with 22 years’ experience, but his licks, shadings, and structure within a song make it seem like he has twice the experience. With “Hard Times, Heartaches, and Scars,” James releases his inner Lou Rawls and Billy Paul, the music peppered with brass and swirling organ. It’s a smoldering hint of what’s to come on “side two,” featuring the album’s masterpiece.
“A Different Kind of Love” moves like one of the best Hall & Oates songs they kept to themselves. I also hear the inspiration of contemporary practitioners like Doyle Bramhall II, especially evident in the driving “Supernatural.” “Stupid Crazy,” toward the end, offers something entirely different — a little light country swing. Four days in Nashville resulted in one great play-it-over-and-over-again album. That it’s only James’ second offering portends great things.
- Casey James
‘Strip It Down’
Label: Casey James Music