Songs Famed for Sorrow and Joy
James comes from a musical background. His
grandfather played blues guitar in the early part of
the 20th Century and his father was a professional
piano player and trombone player. He learned to tap
dance at five, to play piano at eight, and was
touring the Northeastern U.S. by the age of 12.
He fled to Ireland after a failed romance and
learned to play harmonica while there. When he
returned to the U.S., he learned to play guitar. Now
in his late 20s, he's released one of the most
remarkably authentic acoustic blues releases in a
long time. Songs Famed for Sorrow and Joy, his
second release and first for NorthernBlues
Music, is as close to a modern version of the
pre-war blues as I've heard in a long time.
James wrote all 13 songs on the disc and performs
them solo, accompanied only by his guitar or banjo.
The highlights are many, and include "Big Black
Ben," who was one bad dude, "Wooooooo Rosa," a
beautiful seven-minute instrumental, the manic
"Sleepy Girl Blues," "Sugar Smallhouse Heads For the
Hills," one of two songs featuring the Smallhouse
character, and "One-Eyed Katie," who's "all woman,
but not one bit lady."
The lively rag, "Baby-Doll," is another keeper, as is
the intriguingly titled "Runnin' From My Baby's Gun
Whilst Previously Watchin' Butterflies From My Front
Porch," which is actually another superb
instrumental. "Love & Mumbly-Peg" and "The Sad
Ballad of Ol' Willie Chan," like the rest of James'
"story songs," are fascinating narratives featuring
fully fleshed-out character. You can actually feel
their pain, their loss, and even their anger while
Songs Famed for Sorrow and Joy is as good as
acoustic blues gets. Trust me when I say you'll be
listening to it over and over again for a long time.
Visit Samuel James' MySpace page at