James Armstrong claims the injuries he sustained in a home-invasion robbery in 1997 slowed his guitar playing down. Well, thatís not evident in his latest album, a cohesive collection of thought-provoking tunes and deftly applied guitar chops.
The haunting violation of sanctity and security common in both heartache and criminal assault is the unifying theme of this disc. Lyrically, in fact, one must wonder if Armstrong is alluding to his aforementioned troubles with such domestic-discord ditties as "Beat Up By Love," "2 Sides" and "Another Dream."
Armstrongís vocals glow subtly with intonations of soul and R&B, yet he never employs hackneyed histrionics that would destroy the albumís confessional tone. This restraint makes "Pennies and Picks," a smartly-observed consequences-of-life-on-the-road blues, seem especially poignant, and the Professor Longhair-inspired "Mr. Bís" that much more salacious.
Instrumentally, the California-based guitar-slinger has never sounded better. Producer Bruce Bromberg shows off his star to good advantage by utilizing a seamless studio band and a minimum of audio tricks. Whether alternating vibrant slide work with Hendrix-like rock leads on the title track or flat-picking B.B. King style during "Love Will Make You Do Wrong," Armstrong smoothly redefines the range of contemporary blues. Highly recommended.
ó Ken Burke