Saturday, July 20, 2019

Cheyenne James: “Burn It Up” (2018) CD Review

Cheyenne James is a vocalist with power and passion and a great taste for the blues. Her latest release, Burn It Up, features a good mix of original material and covers. Joining her on this album are Rock Romano on bass and ukulele, Dave Carter on guitar, Mark May on guitar, Jim Brady on drums, Steve Krase on harmonica, Randy Wall on keys, Eric Demmer on saxophone, and Lamar Boulet on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Cheyenne opens the album with a cover of “Grits Ain’t Groceries (All Around The World),” written by Titus Turner and made famous by Little Milton. This is some fun rhythm and blues, with a classic vibe, a wonderfully funky rhythm and a horn section, the track driven by a powerful, lively vocal performance. There is something delightfully goofy about the chorus to this tune: “Because you know I love you, baby/Oh, you know I love you, baby/And if I don't love you baby, I tell ya/Grits ain't grocery/Eggs ain't poultry/And Mona Lisa was a man.” Someone once explained to me what grits are, but, well, I don’t remember. I grew up in Massachusetts, you understand. There is so much energy to this tune, not just in the vocals, but in the guitar, the horns, the rhythm section. This is a track to wake you up, get your blood pumping, a perfect opener. It’s followed by an original tune, “Gypsy Mama.” This one also has a great, moving rhythm, but before that’s even established we are treated to some nice bluesy harmonica playing. And there is more of that throughout the track. At some points it really is a duet, with the harmonica being the second set of vocals. There is also more lively guitar work. This is a number to get your feet tapping. We need as much joy as we can get these days, right? “I’m your gypsy mama, baby, moving on down the road/Ain’t got nowhere to be, ain’t got nowhere to go.”

“I Didn’t Know” begins with some cool, laid-back bluesy guitar. But it is when the song kicks in that I really start to dig it, particularly because of the fantastic work from the horn section, which is just delicious. And then at the end the horns are the focus during that groovy, delightful jam. This track also features a kick-ass vocal performance that I love. “Don’t you touch me, thought I couldn’t tell/You can pack your shit and go straight down to hell.” This is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by another original tune, “Lay Me Down,” which has an interesting and wonderful style. Certainly she has the blues here, singing “Lost most of my friends/Can’t pay my bills/Can’t do much of nothing except choke down these pills.” I also really like the work on keys here, particularly toward the end.

Cheyenne James delivers a cool rendition of “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” This is one of the songs that I first heard performed by Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs And Englishman album. Since then, of course, I’ve heard a whole lot of great versions, including those by Ray Charles and Big Mama Thornton, as well as the original by The Coasters. This rendition by Cheyenne James features some nice work on keys and electric guitar, plus a really good, loose lead on saxophone. And of course Cheyenne gives us another dynamic vocal performance. That’s followed by “Rock,” which has a more relaxed blues groove, but still a powerful vocal performance. This track features more good stuff on harmonica, but it is the bass line that I tend to focus on when listening to this tune. I get kind of caught up in that bass line.

“Roll Your Coal” features the horns right from the start, and some jazzy work on guitar which I like. I also really dig Cheyenne’s varied vocal delivery here. This one was written by Russell Mayes and Cheyenne James. Then her cover of “Steal My Heart Away” has a somewhat different sound and vibe from the rest of the album, in large part because of the presence of ukulele, which gives it a sweeter feel. This track also features some nice work on keys. “What Does It Mean” is a mellower and moving song. The guitar part that opens it reminds me quite a bit of “Taurus” by Spirit (which Led Zeppelin borrowed for “Stairway To Heaven”). “I’m so choked up, I can hardly breathe/So tell me, does this mean that you love me.” The disc then concludes with a cover of Freddie King’s “You Know That You Love Me (But You Never Tell Me So),” here titled “You Know You Love Me Baby,” another fun tune with an enjoyable rhythm and more excellent work on harmonica. “The way you twist when you walk and the way you smile/Makes me want to be around you every once in a while.”

CD Track List
  1. Grits Ain’t Groceries
  2. Gypsy Mama
  3. I Didn’t Know
  4. Lay Me Down
  5. Let’s Go Get Stoned
  6. Rock
  7. Roll Your Coal
  8. Steal My Heart Away
  9. What Does It Mean
  10. You Know You Love Me Baby
Burn It Up was released on October 30, 2018.

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