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December 2014

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The Sad Sam Blues Jam
Finally .. the EP
Self-released

Sad Sam Blues Jam

The foursome from Bloomington, Indiana known as The Sad Sam Blues Jam can be excused for not putting out an album until now, and then with only six songs on it. The band members have had more pressing business to take care of .... like going to high school, starting college, etc. Their first release, Finally ... the EP, gives hints that there's a lot more music coming from this ensemble led by teen-aged sisters Sadie and Samantha Johnson (thus the origin of the "Sad Sam" name). The sisters are joined by Krista Hess (guitar) and Matt McCarthy (drums).

While all four band members are solid, make no mistake about it --- Sadie Johnson is the star of this show. Props to her parents for being prescient enough to give her a birth name that would certainly not have been out of place in in the 1930s blues industry! After you hear the guitar playing of this young woman who only recently turned 18, you'll wonder whether she is actually in some convoluted way descended from Robert Johnson. All jokes aside, Sadie Johnson is one of the up-and-coming guitar stars on the horizon. She's going to delay the start of her college matriculation to tour Europe and the U.S. with this year's version of Ruf Records' "Girls with Guitars" caravan.

Check the multitude of Youtube videos and you'll see that Sadie's an extremely versatile guitarist and singer, capable of sitting down with an acoustic guitar for an earthy, heartfelt version of a Robert Johnson song, or turning out spot-on guitar riffs on the Allman Brothers' "Jessica," or getting down and funky with an original "Funk in B." Then stop to remind you that this talented young woman was only 17 when these recordings were made.

This EP can't capture the excitement and magnetism of the band's live Youtube performances, but regardless there are six strong recordings here. Kicking off the album is the up-tempo blues shuffle "My Heart Keeps On Lovin' You." It's a good introduction to the band, with Sadie starting to throw in more intricate guitar riffs as the song progresses.

The band gets a little funkier on the second cut with a version of Hop Wilson's "Black Cat Bone," with steady, rhythmic drumming from McCarthy. Sadie also represents herself well on vocals here. Her voice is reminiscent of that of Montreal blues singer/guitarist Roxanne Potvin, although it's not yet as rich as her Canadian counterpart. The only complaint here is that the second guitar solo is mixed a little too loudly compared to the rest of the band.

Sadie really shines on vocals on the blues shuffle "Just Won't Cut It," showing more range and with a little blues sass injected into her voice. She backs up the attitude with a stinging guitar solo between the choruses.

The rest of the band takes a break and let's Sadie sit down with her acoustic guitar and slide for an absolutely killer instrumental version of Elmore James' "Dust My Broom." Oh my, this is just so good! Did the girl sneak out of the Johnson household one night to sell her soul down at the crossroads?

The rhythm section lays down a heavy bass line on the slow- to medium-tempo "Hide," with Sadie's nimble guitar solo and more sultry vocals providing a nice contrast to the band's grinding accompaniment.

Saving the best for last, the band closes their debut EP with a very nice, laid-back version of the old blues classic "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." This is another vehicle to showcase Sadie's prodigious guitar and vocal talents, with the only accompaniment being tastefully subtle drumming by McCarthy using brushes. Sublime!

Performances by The Sad Sam Blues Jam will be sporadic events, with Sadie's Ruf tour taking up much of 2015 along with all three young women attending different universities, but they promise on their website to have some shows around Indiana after the school year ends. Having missed Sadie's recent appearance in Phoenix (I learned of her existence just days after she was here!), I'll certainly be keeping an eye on their schedule. Who knows, maybe a visit to Indiana will be part of my travel schedule for later this year.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

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