Steve James Boom Chang (Burnside)
Reviewed by David Lynch, Fri., June 30, 2000
Boom Chang (Burnside)Boom Chang is the fourth album by Austin acoustic blues whiz Steve James, and his first for Portland's Burnside imprint. The last, unmarked, 15th track is symbolic: a simple, but poignant solo acoustic minimasterpiece, the Dobro sounding like Bach's lost New Orleans Variations for Guitar. But James has more than just chops. "Stack Lee's Blues" -- a Taj Mahal/Dylan talkin' blues/"Rocky Raccoon" take on the super-standard "Stagger Lee" -- shows James to be a blues songwriter of the first order. Same with "Sonny Payne," another vivid and original five-minute acoustic portrait. Still, the highlight is James' guitar playing: The man can make a Dobro talk in tongues, as on "The Gina Reel." In addition to his songwriting and guit-picking talents, James also knows how to pick bandmates. Bad Liver and klezmer king Mark Rubin adds a Rio Grande-wide tuba on "Country Fool," a tune which, like the rest of Boom Chang, also features the talents of Alvin Youngblood Hart on strings, Cindy Cashdollar on Dobro and Hawaiian guitar, and Gary Primich on harmonica. Boom Chang is an embossed calling card for a world-seasoned blues musician. Not surprising for a man weaned on Leadbelly 78s, taught by legend Sam McGee, and stagemate of Bo Diddley.