NorthernBlues Music, 15
label website

Combining RoadHouse stomp and Boogie piano, rockabilly 'tude, Blues twang, Sinti Jazz shrum-shrum guitar and Flamenco motifs, James Cohen's third release and debut on this label otherwise dedicated to the Blues is a surprising twist in the Jesse Cook/Ottmar Liebert nouveau flamenco craze. Conceptually, it clones guitar maestros George Benson, Rafael Riqueni and Keith Richards into a new beast. Teaming up with steel-string Blues guitarist Tony D., thick-fingered Rocker Cohen headlines on a nylon string Jermey Goertzen-Hamm flamenco guitar. Devin Johnstone assists on percussion and Peruvian cajon, Stu Watkins anchors on bass and Janis Joplin's piano sideman Richard Bell adds keyboards, vibraphon and accordion. While Cohen, in the self-penned liner notes, engages in a bit of idolizing name dropping -- Paco de Lucia, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo, Raimundo Amador and Miguel de la Bastide -- embraced on its own and not Flamenco terms, this album of guitar-based BluesRock, overlaid with strong Manouche and Gitano forms, has much to recommend it: Gritty inventiveness, slighty raunchy vibe, infectious drive, feel-good tunes and the gorgeously fat tone of both James' and Tony's guitars.

This brings to mind Seattle-based formation Pearl Django who work in the shadows of their idols Reinhardt and modern-day masters Angelo Debarre, Jimmy Rosenberg and Romane. They have managed to successfully build out their own Parisian musette niche which doesn't rely on or invoke super-human virtuosity but rather, seduces with raw charm and easy-going playfulness.

The High Side of Lowdown is parallel reading, albeit without exact precedents. What is lacking in immaculate lightning-fast arpeggios and filigreed fretwork is balanced by jazzy riffs and saucy vibratos. Pata Negra is perhaps the closest predecessor but one that approached this Blues/Flamenco juncture from Spanish roots and inclusive of Cante. Lowdown gets there from the opposite pole of purely instrumental Rock, Swing and Blues. Rather than a Howlin' Wolf on a Conde Hermanos guitar, it conjures up a sawdust saloon atmosphere with a cheerful and responsive crowd that has heard of palmas and tangos but is more attuned to Hammond organ and square dancing. Impossible to compress into a preexisting category, Lowdown should enjoy popularity not just with commuters and guitar fans but also dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles. Besides being fun and original, it's well recorded. It highlights two guitars in all their close-up saturated glory, albeit transplanted in an unexpected milieu of hybrid styles never attempted quite like this before. A happy Cheers to whoever at NorthernBlues decided to pop this disc in the mail - it's a keeper!