Label: Blue Palace Records Release date: 6 March 2020
Raised in central Michigan on a family-run fishing resort, Jan’s talent was obvious early on. ‘The more I played guitar and the more I tried out the voice I learned to use in the church choir,’ says Jan, ‘the more I liked it.’ And so… did everyone else. Jan met her partner, songwriter/guitarist Craig Calvert, while they were both attending Michigan State University. When she needed to replace her guitar player, the timing was right. They developed a musical chemistry that has evolved into a big sound and feel that is coloured with blues, soul and the raw dynamics of the best rock-n-roll. Moving to Chicago, the blues capital was good to them, and they to it. They became favourites in such venues as Buddy Guy’s Blues Legends, Taste of Chicago and The House of Blues. They shared the stage with Koko Taylor, John Mayall, Little Feat, James Brown and B.B. King. They cut their first album, a powerhouse CD called ‘Last Train,’ picked up by the Dutch label Provogue. Jan launched a promotional tour of acoustic and electric performances aired on radio and television throughout The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia; along with a feature on NBC’s television program, ‘Talking Blues’. More albums followed: ‘Soul Desire,’ ‘The Color Of Rose’ ‘Limousine Blues’, ‘Drive Me Home’, ‘Ring Around the Moon’, ‘Calling All Saints’ and now the latest ‘Justify’, a pure and commanding showcase of her talent from start to finish. Jan has performed at Chicago’s Royal George Theater in the starring role of Janis Joplin in a play based on Janis’ letters and songs. Along with the standing ovations, there was so much more. There was the aura of a major talent. We got to see not only the power of what Janis had left for us, but the power of what Jan James now does…and will do.
JAN JAMES – Justify – Released on Blues Palace Records.
Raised in Michigan where she earned her first accolade as Best Female Vocalist, Jan and her songwriter-guitarist partner Craig Calvert moved to Chicago and played the famous Legends and House Of Bluesvenues. She was initially signed up by the prestigious Provogue record label and following several albums and a quarter of a century singing the blues, James and her band have produced a clear statement of where they are at with Justify.
The title track confirms the chemistry between Jan and Craig, her powerful, anguished vocals a perfect match to his searing guitar work. No wonder she was cast as Janis Joplin in a Chicago play and recognised as a major talent of similar ilk.
Good Man Down showcases the musical prowess of all eight musicians and their collective force as a blues-rock powerhouse. The rhythm section lays down a heavy groove on A Different Life which complements the dark vocals. By contrast, the ballad Try highlights Jan’s vocal versatility with its softer mellifluous opening vibe whilst the slow-burning Never In The Game showcases the intricate side of Craig’s guitar repertoire.
Surprises are in store throughout, such as the quirky, up-tempo gospel-inspired Anything You Want with its classic line, ”He had his way with her but its okay cause/ He did it on his knees.” Referring of course to prayers! The many highlights include the rocking Lucky U R, an impressive version of Jagger and Richards Honky Tonk Woman and Where You Gonna Run To with Jan’s voice ranging from crooner to blues blaster and all points in between.
However, Jan’s songwriting and vocal delivery are at their best when she is communicating her reflections on love and relationships with sincerity and candour as in the finale, Dangerous Decision. She reaches her conclusion that “A dangerous decision has left me stranded/ And blue – A dangerous decision to fall in love with you.” The deep empathy of all the musicians results in a climactic, virtuosic swirling sound of coloratura-esque proportions, bringing the song and the album to a dramatic close.
Jan James has paid her dues and probably has not yet received the recognition that her inner soul deserves. Hopefully, Justify will change all that.
By THE BISHOP
Jan James met her partner, songwriter/guitarist Craig Calvert, at Michigan State University, before the pair of them moved to Chicago. They performed regularly in Chicago, released a series of albums, including one on the blues label Provogue. Jan James also took the starring role in a show based on the music and letters of Janis Joplin. Plenty of experience then and it has led to this, her latest album, one with plenty of blues, rock and soul.
Jan James has a powerful, soulful vocal that suits the simmering blues rock on ‘A Different Life’ and the slower, moody ‘Never In The Game’. Craig Calvert weaves in some wonderful blues solos on the songs, with a suitably emotive solo on ‘Never In The Game’.
Her early years singing in the church choir form the basis of ‘Anything You Want’, a mix of gospel, honkytonk piano and another fine piece of harp playing by David Semen. Jan James even has a go at the Rolling Stones classic ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, which she slows right down and again more great harp playing. A good cover version as she make sit her own.
Jan James has been around the blues scene for a number of years now and whilst ‘Justify’ may be a typical blues album in parts, her vocals and the guitar lift it up to another level. Definitely worth investigating. ***1/2
Review by Jason Ritchie
Jan James is probably not a familiar name in the UK, though she has been performing for many years in the States, with 6 previous full album releases, available here in the UK, in the usual outlets. Raised in Michigan, voted Best Female Artist in Detroit, she made her way to that bedrock of Blues, Chicago, with partner, guitarist Craig Calvert. They have shared the stage with Koko Taylor, John Mayall, Little Feat, James Brown, and BB King. Their first ‘demo’ disc was picked up by Provogue label in Europe, and a tour followed. More albums followed, and to give a clue to Jans vocal power, she also graced the stage in a Chicago production based on Janis Joplin. Justify is her latest album, due for release in the UK on March 6th.
Craig features on guitar, Gordon Patriarca on bass, Bryan Resendiz, drums, Bob Long on keybords and David Serman plays harmonica.
So much for the backdrop, opening track, ‘I’m Always Coming Back’, quickly grabs your attention with Jan’s powerful, edgy vocals, and full on band backing for what is a soulful blues blast. Craig then scythes his way into the fabulous title track, ‘Justify’, the funk rhythm slots in behind, Jan kicks in with plenty of grit, on this searing Blues, full of superb riffs, and beautifully produced.
Dig down a bit further, and you’ll uncover the slow burning country flavoured blues, ‘Try’, where Jan delivers her gutsy lyrics, and Bob carries the melody on piano.
Harp bending Seman, brings in a faster moving country blues, in, ‘Lucky’, with flashes of gorgeous guitar, and a driving rhythm for Jan to bound along. She brings a passionate performance to the rocking, ‘Different Love’, with punchy rhythm, lovely licks and a bit more of that harp, for Jan to ride.
‘Never in The Game’, has the warmth, mystery, depth and passion of a Bond theme, where James trumps the devious but beautiful adversary, what a waste, but a gorgeous bluesy ballad, the lyrics may deal you out, but the song will stay with you. A big song looking for a film score, to steal the scene.
Hallelujah, a complete contrast as Jan spells out the story of, ‘Anything You Want’, a dance along rock tale. Time to drop in a touch of the Stones, you can’t keep a great song down and the band give, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ a fine blast, with its New Orleans flavour.
‘Where You Gonna Run To’, another big, gutsy blues ballad, rich riffs, and great wall of rhythm. The 12 track album closes on with a ‘Dangerous Decision’, one more searing blues belter to close what is a fine collection of songs, some great blues, big ballads, not to mention the peppy soul of ‘GoodMan Down’ and ‘Believe In Me’. Jan has delivered in style, and should find a firm footing in both the UK and Europe with Justify. And yes, the title track, absolutely Justifies its position, a stand out scorcher which Jan and Craig can rightly be proud.
Released on Blue Palace Records BPJUS00012
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