James Reams and the Barnstormers – One Foot In The Honky Tonk
When the playing and the singing and the songwriting are working just right on James Reams and the Barnstormers’ third release, the album works as well, and the effect is quite a pleasure. That happens on about half the CD’s 15 tracks.
Reams and his band—longtime collaborator Mark Ferrell on mandolin and fiddle, Doug Nicholson on banjo, and Nick Sullivan on bass (plus guests Kenny Kosek on fiddle and Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin)—do best on the slower honky-tonk tunes and the instrumentals. The exception is the opening title track, which clips along at a nice rip and is sharp throughout.
Exception aside, there is much to like in the slower, bluesier songs such as “Almost Hear The Blues,” “In The Corner At The Table By The Jukebox,” and “King Of The Blues.” The first of that list is of particular note. Written by country great Stonewall Jackson, it’s everything a good country song should be, and the performance is excellent. “In The Corner…” by James Hand is almost as good. Then there are the four instrumentals including two band originals. Here, the top cut is a cover of “Florida Blues.” First made famous by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, this version has a very different feel, and it’s good to hear Mark Ferrell putting a personal stamp on a classic.
As for what makes the remaining songs average, the biggest culprits are phrasing and word construction or both. Songs that are phrased oddly or that jam too many syllables into a measure, such as “Cornbread, Molasses and Sassafras Tea,” are instantly distracting. Some are more distracting than others, but distracting nonetheless. Fortunately, the better half redeems the album. (Mountain Redbird Music, 10045 Royal Oak Rd., Unit 35, Sun City, AZ 85351, www.jamesreams.com.) BW