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November 2006

an associate

Paris James
Death Letter
Dreamvox Records

Paris James

Paris James has something special going on. The first time I heard his self-produced, Death Letter, it sent chills, and the last time that happened was … well, it’s been a while. Alvin Youngblood Hart is the only other primal blues man who does that for me on a regular basis.

On “”Folk Tales,” accompanied by his superb slide guitar playing, James sings, “The sky was black/there was a silver moon.” There is more treachery, black night villainy and chill-generation going on in just that lyric than some solo blues artists can muster in a whole career. Almost a linin’ song, it strikes a chilling cord, the first of many in this one-man masterpiece.

James doesn’t merely sing a song; he crawls in and wraps himself up in the lyric, in the presentation and in the essence. His vocals are haunting, rich and as expressive as emotive and stamp themselves into the secret canals of the ears.

“Wake Up Mary” is thick with John Lee Hooker references, his version of Son House’s often covered title piece may be the most moving to reach these ears in a lifetime of listening, and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” receives an equally unique interpretation.

Robert Johnson (“32-20”), Willie Dixon (“I Ain’t Superstitious”), and Roosevelt Sykes (“44 Blues”) are also done proud, pointing to James’ interpretive skills. None of the covers are going to cause a rush to the selection changer. These are thoughtful interpretations, sometimes re-inventions. That the original material stands its ground next to the work of the masters speaks to the genius of Paris James.

One of the standout debut discs of the year. For more info, visit

--- Mark E. Gallo


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