Until a few hours ago, I had never heard of Casey James. Then I coincidentally came across his new album Strip It Down in Apple Music. Now I think I’m a new fan. All it took to get my full attention was to listen to the opening notes of the first track, and I immediately liked what I heard!
Released independently on June 9, Strip It Down is the kind of electric blues that puts a big smile on my face. According James’ web site, blues is the music the 35-year-old from Fort Worth loves, citing Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II and ZZ Top as key influences. And it shows!
James initially became known as the third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010. In August that year he signed with Sony Music Nashville. In March 2012, his eponymous album appeared on the BNA Records label. The country-oriented pop rock album was co-produced by Casey and country heavyweight artist and producer Chris Lindsey, who has worked with Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Martina McBride, among others.
But while his debut brought James some success, apparently, it did not bring him happiness as an artist. Explaining the new album’s title, his web bio notes, “It’s titled Strip It Down because it’s exactly what Casey James did – shed off the layers of stylized artistic clothing that he’d been given in those other public ventures to find the real artist underneath, a guy with a convincing, smoky vocal quality and a burning, lyrical skill with a guitar.”
Strip It Down opens with All I Need, a nice blues shredder that does remind me a bit of Vaughan. I could not find a clip of the studio version, but here’s a nice one of a live performance.
Things continue briskly with Bulletproof, a co-write with Tom Hambridge, a country and blues artist and producer, who reportedly has been called the “White Willie Dixon” by Buddy Guy. The tune features Delbert McClinton.
Next up is Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars, where Casey is slowing things down for the first time. The horn accents give this track a nice dose of Memphis soul. I also love the Hammond-style keyboard.
Another great tune is the album’s title track, which apparently is a co-write. Here is a nice clip about the song’s making.
The second soulful tune on the album I’d like to call out is Supernatural. Written by James, it again features great horns, similar to Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars. The track also has great background vocals.
Strip It Down was produced by Hambridge mostly live in a Nashville studio in just four days. Hambridge brought in a top-notch musicians, including guitarists Pat Buchanan and Rob McNelley, bass player Tommy McDonald and keyboarder Kevin McKendree. Most of the songs were recorded in three takes or less. James funded the album through fan contributions with a one-month Kickstarter campaign.
Says James on his web site: “If you were to give me two options – one to have a shot at being famous, but it might mean I never play music again, or the other, to play every single night at bars, I would immediately choose option B. Because I want to play music.” Most importantly, James appears to have finally reached his ultimate goal: being himself.
Sources: Wikipedia, Casey James web site, YouTube