Album Reviews

James Harman


Artist:     James Harman

Album:     Bonetime

Label:     Electro-Fi

Release Date:     01/20/2015


One of the “Most Dangerous Gentlemen” of the blues, still is. Ever since relocating to California in the 1970s from his native Alabama and stops in-between, “Icepick” James Harman has been a consistently brilliant blues virtuoso and downright “character,” not nearly as celebrated as he ought to be. So, allow me to celebrate. Bonetime is right up there with his absolute best. Because Harman habitually collects unfinished songs, it’s likely these dozen gems originate from several sessions over recent years. No matter; the cohesiveness amazes as much as the songs do. Harman’s wicked ways with a harp, and his charismatic, Southern-inflected voice seem ageless. And the tight, sundry performances are by a host of the left coast’s premier blues players—all Harman Band vets.

Harman states in the liner notes that the songs link together as insights into the human condition. Well, they do, and in wild-ass ways. The longest, “Coldfront Woman,” is a searing blues featuring ex-Blasters member Gene Taylor playing unparalleled barrelhouse piano, followed by a guitar solo by ex-Fabulous Thunderbird Kirk Fletcher worth paying decent dollars to hear. “(I Am) The World’s Badluckest Man” jitters enthusiastically, sustaining killer lines such as “I can turn wine back into water” and “Make any momma sorry I got her.” “Big-Boned Gal,” with Kid Ramos (also ex-Thunderbirds) on guitar, makes its hilarious point with a bare-boned, slap-dash beat. But for the swingin’est damned thing, the brass-imbued “Bad Feets/Bad Hair,” complete with the ladies in the back, takes the prize. Harman’s burning harp in “The Clock is Tickin’,” which comes in at the end, makes the album. His music, and his turns of phrase, are impossible to resist. Sit in contemplation of Bonetime as the words fly by. Or, fly with the tunes with abandon. Either method works pretty damn well. 

-Tom Clarke

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