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September 2021

Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps
Rose-Colored Glasses, Vol. 1
Blue Heart Records

Teresa James

As we head into the home stretch of the 2021 blues season, I believe I've now heard the best blues album of the year coming from Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps. This very fine singer and piano player has many albums to her name over a more than 20-year career. Why her newest disc, Rose-Colored Glasses, Vol. 1 (Blue Heart Records) is the first one to pop into my collection is a mystery that I've already quickly rectified by downloading her previous album. Until I dig even deeper into her back catalog I'm going to be extremely happy listening to this one over and over, because there are no weak numbers among the dozen cuts here.

James is not a vocalist whose voice will boom through your speakers and have you reaching for the volume knob, but rather it's a pleasant and effective voice that is pleasing to the ears. The band is tight, and for this disk James and co-producer / bass player / guitarist Terry Wilson brought in a whole host of Texas-based guitarists to further supplement the already solid backing band. With 12 outstanding cuts, mostly band originals, it all adds up to a wonderful package of solid blues.

Rose-Colored Glasses opens with one of its best numbers, "Show Me How You Do It," with a snaky guitar intro by Yates McKendree. It's a mid-tempo blues that pulls the listener in and gives a preview of just how good this album is going to be. Just as solid is the slower blues shuffle "Takes One To Know One," featuring the great Anson Funderburgh handling lead guitar duties and an extremely effective horn section of Darrell Leonard and Paulie Cerra. James' vocals come across as very sincere here.

The title cut is a slow soulful blues, written by Nicki Bluhm who comes in on backing vocals, featuring a killer slide guitar solo by James Pennebaker. Changing the mood is a rumba blues, "I Got A Love I Wanna Hold On To," with Billy Watts and Terry Wilson sharing the spotlight on guitar and with very effective trumpet by Leonard and a nice sax solo from Cerra.

Leonard again stars on the late-night slow blues, "All You Every Bring Me Is The Blues," contributing a stirring trumpet solo while James provides tortured vocals. The horn section is small, but they combine to produce a big band wall of sound. The tempo picks up somewhat when Funderburgh returns with subtly effective guitar licks on "Wish It Into The Cornfield," a stirring tale of a homeless vet.

The horn section and drummer Herman Matthews provide the funky intro to "Once The World Stops Ending," a wish for better days ahead. Dean Parks guests on guitar here, while James shows she's more than just a pretty voice by laying down a strong solo on piano. I'm loving the reggae beat of "Everybody Everybody," with the intro featuring the Kingston-style drumming of Jay Bellerose and brassy trombone from Leonard before Wilson treats us to very nice slide guitar accompaniment.

Guest guitarist Lee Roy Parnell absolutely owns the slow blues number "Things Ain't Like That," with Kevin McKendree also showing up on organ, leading into the slow blues ballad "When My Baby Comes Home," an emotional song that gives James a chance to again show her skills on piano. The horns blast away and Bellerose provides a steady drum beat to lay down the foundation on a song of inspiration, "Rise Together," with Snuffy Walden adding the guitar tracks here.

If in the unlikely event you were missing a more up-tempo, raucous sound, James closes the album with "Gimme Some Skin," putting more power into her voice and showing that she knows how to rock out with the best of them. She even outshouts the boisterous horn section, and guest guitarist David Millsap lays down some tasty slide guitar. One of the best cuts on the album, and a great way to close this wonderful selection of blues tunes.

Rose-Colored Glasses, Vol. 1 is one of the best albums I've heard this year, with its name hinting that we can expect a Volume 2 at some point. If so, I can't wait for the second half. In the meantime, I'll be playing this one over and over. Teresa James has entered the upper echelon of my favorite blues singers, and I believe she's going to remain there for a very, very long time.

--- Bill Mitchell



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