Markus James review…November 6, 2014…

MARKUS JAMES

HEAD FOR THE HILLS

FIRENZE RECORDS  014

JUST SAY YES–GOIN’ DOWN SOUTH–HEAD FOR THE HILLS–SHAKE–SUIT OF GOLDEN CLOTHES–FOR BLIND WILLIE–GONE LIKE TOMORROW–FALLIN FROM THE SKY–NOMO–HEAD FOR THE HILLS–ON A MISSISSIPPI PORCH–SLEEPYHEAD–CANDYLAND REFUGEE–DIDDLEY BOW AND BUCKETS–GREEN

Markus James has been playing his slide guitar, one-stringed cigar box guitar, gourd banjo, as well as many other stringed instruments, with West African musicians since 1994, when he made a pilgrimage to Mali and the home of Ali Farka Toure.  He was also friends with Jessie Mae Hemphill, those two often reminiscing over how much the sounds of West Africa had in common with the North Mississippi Hill Country that Jessie called home.  That is the theme of Markus’ latest album, aptly-titled “Head For The Hills.”  Over the course of these sixteen cuts, Markus and his array of stringed instruments, brings the Hill Country literally to life, with the aid of five renowned drummers from that region.  Each drummer brings a distinct sound and feel to Markus’ guitar playing and singing.  They are Kinney Kimbrough, son of Junior Kimbrough, Calvin Jackson, Bill Turner, R. L. Boyce, and Marlon Green.  The recordings took place where the juke joints rule, in Como, Luxahoma, Holly Springs, and Senatobia, MS.

Markus comes out like the proverbial wampus cat, with his slide blazing, the echo-effect vocals of “Just Say Yes in a world of no,” driven along by Kinney”s powerhouse skin-pounding.  “Shake” features Calvin Jackson riding the freight-train boogie of this one, augmented by Markus’ wailing harp.  Calvin’s unique “hamboning” skills, a method of drumming with only the hands,  are put to use on “Fallin’ From The Sky” and the slide-heavy instrumental, “On A Mississippi Porch,” which is precisely where it was recorded!  Bill Turner, long-associated with the fife-and-drum bands of Otha Turner,  adds drums on the tale of  a world that can change without warning, the ethereal Candyland Refugee.”

We had two favorites, sort of.  Markus and Kinney lay down a monster groove on the ‘lectrified version of the title cut, while Calvin’s hamboning is irresistible on the acoustic version of this one, dealing with the consequences of life’s excesses, sometimes making it necessary to “Head For The Hills!”

Markus James has an unbridled passion for the music of West Africa and the Hill Country.  His choice of drummers has added to the eclecticism of this set, which will definitely lift your spirits and cleanse your soul!  Until next time…Don and Sheryl Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

 

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