Blues Bytes


March 2008

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Samuel James
Songs Famed for Sorrow and Joy
NorthernBlues Music

Samuel James

Samuel 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 you're listening.

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

--- Graham Clarke


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