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Music Review: James Kinds – Love You From The Top

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Fans of old-school Chicago blues have much to thank Delmark Records for. They’ve kept the blue flame burning for over 55 years now, consistently releasing recordings by hard-working musicians who dwell in the city often called “The Home Of The Blues.”

Love You From The Top, the debut recording from veteran journeyman James Kinds, is a shining example of what Delmark does so well; it’s raw and real, utterly unpretentious, and bursting with passionate performances.

Kinds has been around for a long time. Pegged as a rising start ‘way back in the ’70s, he’s since toiled in relative obscurity, plying his trade night after night with little recognition beyond those lucky enough to catch him in a club. He’s recorded a few times for regional labels but this is his first outing that’s widely available.

There’s nothing fancy about the music here, and truth be told, many of the performances aren’t much more than bar-band quality. There are a few out-and-out stumbles, and it’s obvious there were no trips back into the studio to fix things up – the band’s attempts to lock into a groove are amply apparent on a few tracks, and drummer Claude L. Thomas is a little loosey-goosey with both time and the beat.

But the blues has always been about passion, not precision, and while instrumental performances from the band are generally workmanlike, there’s no denying the sheer intensity Kinds brings to the project. His guitar work is economically effective, rubbery, propulsive rhythms punctuated by stinging leads. And he sings with gospel fervor, his relatively thin voice an exceptionally expressive instrument thanks to the soul-searing force he puts into every line.

Kinds wrote all the material here, and while the songs generally adhere to twelve-bar convention, they’re all well-constructed and tightly arranged, Kinds getting help on a handful from second guitarist Al Pool, with veteran Eddie Shaw adding biting tenor sax on four tracks. Titles like “Crack Headed Woman,” “I Got A Woman,” and “Oo Wee Pretty Baby” define the territory – nothing terribly new or innovative on display – but Hinds and company put their all into every tune, with fervently energetic performances that give every cut an irresistible urgency.

The twelve-bar format is finite, and to the uninitiated it can all start to sound the same. The key is in the performance, in the passion and in the individual approach each performer brings to the table. Kinds may not be adding much to the canon, but his is a unique and engaging voice, and Love You From The Top is the sound of a working band playing real music with heart and soul.

Not quite essential, perhaps, but it’s a fine outing that adds another solid chapter to Delmark’s ongoing chronicle of the sounds of Chicago.

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