Reviewed by David Lynch, Fri., May 30, 2003
Steve JamesFast Texas (Burnside) The latest by Austin blues man Steve James would put a Cheshire Cat grin on the face of Robert Crumb since the eccentric cartoonist loves visceral acoustic blues from between the World Wars. James picked up the guitar at age 12, learning the idiom from masters like Bo Diddley, Sam McGee, and Furry Lewis, and has been preaching the blues gospel ever since. Fast Texas is totally acoustic and features James on vocals, 12-string and resonator guitars, mandolin, and banjo. The selections are a mixture of James' originals and gems from the vault, such as Jimmie Rogers' delightful instrumental ditty "Waiting for a Train." James looks to Navasota's Mance Lipscomb for the arrangement of the traditional "Jack o' Diamonds" and channels the meaty arpeggios of Leadbelly's Stella 12-string on the James-penned "Sukey." James' mandolin playing on "Texas Tommy" is simply divine, but the key of the tune stretches his vocal range past comfortable, making the song sound more forced than urgent. While some of the cuts are new, overall the music and the delivery style James presents here are not, dating to the mid-part of last century. Yet James has chops to burn, enough to effectively tour Europe, South America, Australia, and Hong Kong. And as the sounds of the O Brother, and now Fast Texas, prove, historical music such as this can still be successfully mined.