On ‘Good Life’ Seth James Taps Delbert McClinton’s Team For An Authentic & Soulful Ride (ALBUM REVIEW)

Texas singer-songwriter/guitarist Seth James does not make albums very often but this time he had a specific goal in mind. Like many of us have observed, many of the artists we admire have great bands behind them. Mention Delbert McClinton and the next phrase is likely “he has a really good band.” James had the opportunity to open for Delbert and Le Roy Parnell a few times and noticed that both were supported by essentially the same cast. He dreamed about having such a backing band and Good Life is his realization of that dream. In fact, change the voice just slightly and you might think you’re hearing a Delbert album. James has an authentic, soulful voice, without the distinctive Delbert rasp but with similar Texas-bred timbre.

Much of that Delbert sound is owed to keyboardist and producer Kevin McKendree who not only does both here but co-writes on many of the songs.  He and his engineer/guitarist son, Yates, are becoming a formidable producer/engineer team, having worked recently on Shaun Murphy’s new album, on John Hiatt’s most recent, and most recently on Delbert’s latest, Tall, Dark, And Handsome, among several others.

James on vocals and guitar is backed by Delbert sideman Bob Britt on rhythm and slide, Kevin McKendree on keys, Yates McKendree on Lead guitar for ‘From Way Behind,” and the in-demand rhythm Nashville rhythm section of drummer Lynn Williams and bassist Steve Mackey. Wendy Moten, also a Delbert cohort, sings background and do-everything Jim Hoke plays various saxophones and arranged the three-piece horn section that also includes trombonist Roy Agee and trumpeter Vinnie Ciesielski.

The sound leans most closely to Texas blues with elements of roots, country, and soul. He opens with the sassy strut of  “Brother” followed by the syncopated perky “That’s How You Do It” and the similar, but funkier title track. The horn slathered “Little Angel” brings breezy soul, apropos for a song about blissful love. Then James steps forward, sounding very much like Delbert with a Delbert-penned song, “Ain’t Watcha Eat But The Way How You Chew It.” Slow blues, propelled by Yates McKendree’s lead guitar, underpins the love plea “From Way Behind.”

Dobie Gray’s “The Time I Love the Most” just soars with blaring horns and a rollicking groove, a clear standout as is the seductive ballad ‘I’m Coming Home<,” the album’s oldest song, written ten years ago, like most of the co-writes, between James and McKendree. Apparently, from that moment on, the two vowed to make an album together. It just took ten years for it to fall into place. On the surface, the song seems to be about a traveler coming home to his significant other, but the theme runs deeper than that. He explains, “in the place that I grew up (a ranch west of Ft. Worth) it’s very common to find that the later generations who inherit the family ranches typically do not share the same work ethic and values of their forefathers. Very often, they squabble and argue and ultimately sell off what it took generations to build. This song allowed me to put my finger in those people’s faces. It’s not about the land as much as it is about the kind of person which that lifestyle produces. I don’t believe this world can afford to lose people who share that kind of dedication.”

The upbeat vibe continues with “Get Outside,” a vehicle for Britt’s slide.  “Medicine Man” is a crunchy rocker, augmented by Moten’s backgrounds and McKendree’s swirling B3. “Third Generation” features horns and a thumping bass line that propels the funky blues, as James sings a bit more about his statement in the previous paragraph. The album ends quietly with James alone on his guitar for the emotive, Delta blues styled “I Am the Storm.”

One of the reasons there has been such a gap between solo albums for James was because in 2010 he joined forces with Cody Canada and formed The Departed, with whom he spent three years and recorded two albums. He wanted to return to his primary passion and make an album infused with blues. Not only did he surround himself with a special supporting cast here, but James delivers a positive, authentic, upbeat album, packed with gems.

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