Cee Cee James,
Blood Red Blues
(FWG, 2012)

Blood Red Roses is the sort of contemporary blues recording that could easily have lapsed into bombastic excess. The St. Louis-based Cee Cee James is a vocalist with seemingly bottomless lung power. As soon as I discerned as much -- this is her third blues album, the first I've heard -- I anticipated, without enthusiasm, the sort of singing that peels paint from houses and sets barns aflame.

At moments James seems as if poised to erupt into this kind of merciless aural assault, but she passes on the temptation out of a musical intelligence that informs her more is not always more. As W.C. Fields once defined a gentleman as one who is able to play the saxophone but doesn't, James refrains from doing what she can do simply because she can do it.

The result is an appealing, accessible dozen cuts of hard-rockin' but rooted blues, all originals written with her husband and musical partner Rob "Slideboy" Andrews. The songs are all strong ones, though the amazingly erotic (if never quite explicit) "Feel My Love Come Down" is likely the first one you'll take special notice of; it sort of leaps out of the speakers, and the next thing you know, you're wiping yourself down from a cold sweat.

Andrews's rhythm and slide keep the arrangements gritty with the spirit of Delta soil and gospel soul, while James's vocals miraculously fuse decades' worth of tradition and style. Like a select few artists, her music, while undeniably modern, still feels as if tied to no particular moment. In other words, it is unlikely to date. It would have sounded good a few decades ago, and it will sound good decades from now. It's often relentless, always intense, but also, in its way, restrained, leaving space for honest feeling and emotional insight.

As good as Blood Red Blues is, though, I am certain it gives only a hint of what she's like live. From the evidence here, she's on her way to blues stardom.

music review by
Jerome Clark

20 October 2012

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