James Armstrong is a seasoned blues man, and it shows on Blues At The Border, which also mixes other musical genres to provide a smooth, urban, contemporary blues sound.
The CD starts out with “Everything Good to Ya (Ain’t Always Good For Ya),” which establishes Armstrong’s smooth, strong vocal style. The vibe continues with “Somebody Got to Pay,” a cautionary message about love and responsibility. The lyrics for this song and the next, “Baby Can You Hear Me,” were written by Bob Trenchard, who also plays bass on the CD. The songs have more of a soul sound than traditional blues, and “Baby Can You Hear Me” is especially enhanced by Armstrong’s guitar and George Papageorge’s organ.
The title song of the CD, “Blues on the Border,” is a funky, topical blues about being a musician on the road since 9/11, which reflects Armstrong’s interest in using blues to comment on today’s world.
“Devil’s Candy” has some tasty bass and slide guitar, and is the necessary cautionary tale about what happens when a man goes after an evil woman.
“Nothing Left to Say” is about an ex-lover who can’t let go of a relationship that is over: “Why do you keep talking/when there’s nothing left to say?” It’s about the need to let go and move on.
“High Maintenance Woman,” my favorite song on the CD, lets the fun take over, with a funky little ditty about his demanding woman, greatly enhanced by the spoken interplay between Armstrong and his real-life girlfriend, Madonna Hamel, in the role of the high maintenance woman.
“Good Man, Bad Thing” is another song about accepting that you’ve done wrong and moving on, the recurring theme of much of this CD.
“Young Man With the Blues” begins with a haunting guitar riff punctuated by a solid back beat, and proceeds to tell us a biographical story of Armstrong’s life, paying a tribute as well to his father who raised him and taught him to love music. It is a remarkably intimate song and my second favorite song of this set.
“Brand New Man” takes us back to the urban groove, and continues the theme of picking up and starting over that is so prevalent in this CD.
“Long Black Car” is a cautionary tale once again, about what’s important and what’s not. Hamel provides some great background vocals here which really enhance Armstrong’s vocals. The style of this song reminds me strongly of Lyle Lovett, with an easy Texas swing.
Altogether, this is a very enjoyable, very contemporary CD which manages to be both smooth and funky. James Armstrong is an artist well worth listening to, and this CD finds him at his best.