The set opens with the gently rolling good-time groove of Swingin’ In The Sweet Sunshine, with tasteful saxophone work from Brian Gephart, and subtle piano from Bob Long. Heavily reminiscent of The Tymes’ 1975 hit Ms Grace, this sets the template for much of what is to come; the emphasis here is on uplifting and melodic, easy soul. Stronger Now displays a distinct ‘60s influence in the clear-toned, tremolo guitar intro, playing out over a tastefully-restrained guitar solo, as does the slow, triplet-timed blues of Desperate Times. The twin backing vocals of Cheryl Wilson and Joyce Fayson come across like a full gospel choir in this one, and they make their presence felt at many times during the course of the album.
Sometimes Love’s Like That is another helping of poppy, soulful, mid-tempo melody, with more of a strident tenor sax solo, but to me, the album starts to get into its stride with its longest number, the nearly 5-minute Let Love Surround You, with its springy guitar intro and gospel soul feel. Boldly fuzzy guitar chords adorn the choruses, and there’s loads going on in the background; busy rhythm guitar, tasteful piano and that gospel chorus again. Everything is thrown at this one including an unashamedly bluesy guitar solo. An 8-piece band (even with Calvert doubling on bass), includes blues harmonica player David Seman, whose contribution starts coming to the fore on the title song Time Bomb, which also bumps up the speed slightly.
The tempo comes back down for the slow, end-of-evening, triplet time blues Too Late Now, but this still builds into a country-infused soul number, while Don’t Lie To The One You Love drifts more into pop territory, with a flavour of The Zutons’ Valerie about it. Most of the songs offer an upbuilding message, even while taking their inspiration from the desperate times the world finds itself in, with only the next song spitting a little bile; Blood On Your Hands is a direct answer to the January 2021 invasion of Washington’s Capitol Building by a politically-motivated mob after Donald Trump’s electoral defeat. It’s angry stuff, (at least as far as James’ smooth, smiling vocals can ever sound angry), with a rocky rhythm and some great, overdriven harp playing from Seman.
Diamonds And Gold is the first and only song on the album to be sung in a minor key, with James giving it some really high-register singing in the intro. It’s more of a funky pop number than either soul or blues, and also far more musically complex than anything that has gone before, with the warning that “diamonds and gold will not protect you when you’re old.” Drummer Jake Loomis contributes some imaginative snare patterns to this one, a highlight of the set. The band briefly becomes a 9-piece with Bart Kamp providing bass for Love Is The Answer, another triplet-rhythmed blues, with rapid-fire hi-hat work and overdubbed guitars at the end.
Don’t it Feel Good is a bouncy soul number that does what it says on the tin, but the concluding song is undoubtedly the best on the album from where I’m sitting; Always The Blues starts on a deep wah-wah guitar rhythm, before resolving into an up-tempo funky, light rocker. Bolstered by some bluesy harp and a slightly jazzy rhythm, this would go down well live I think, and descends into a great, rocky guitar solo with loads of echo, before the album grinds to a halt at well over 50 minutes.
James’ voice is soulful and melodic throughout; Calvert’s guitar adds plenty of varied textures without ever overburdening the songs. The large band makes sure there is always plenty of interest in the background, and the whole sound is full and well-balanced. In short, it’s easy and pleasant listening.
Time Bomb by Jan James is now available from Blue Palace Records
From the soulful opener “Swinging In The Sweet Sunshine” – which features some lovely Junior Walker style sax’ from Brian Gephart, and Jan’s vocal reminiscent of Maria Muldaur – to the last cut, “Always The Blues” – featuring wah-wah guitar and bluesy harmonica – this 50+ minute, 13-track album delivers consistent spirit and energy from this established Michigan-born singer.
Follow-up to Jan’s 2020 release “Justify”, this set of songs again recorded and written with partner Craig Calvert, who plays guitar and bass here.
Jan James honed her vocals in a church choir, and learned guitar licks from a Tennessean named Catfish. She made her way from a family-run fishing resort in central Michigan to downtown Chicago. Her creative partnership with Craig Calvert spans more than three decades; which incudes extensive exploration of roots music of all kinds: rock n’ roll, soul, country and the blues.
In addition to recording with Jim Peterik (Survivor) and Jim Dickinson, Jan and Craig secured a publishing deal with MCA. They became favourites in such venues as Buddy Guy’s Blues Legends and The House of Blues, performed at Grammy events and dozens of the city’s famed street festivals, and shared the stage with Koko Taylor, John Mayall, Little Feat, and James Brown.
For the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary celebration, they were billed with Jeff Beck and BB King. Jan was asked to sing backup for Bruce Willis at the grand opening of the Planet Hollywood, and played Janis Joplin in the stage play, “Love, Janis.”
Jan and Craig’s first album, “Last Train”, was picked up by the Dutch label Provogue, which laid the foundation for Jan’s ongoing European fan base. Twelve records followed through the years.
“Time Bomb” is mainly up-tempo, feel-good stuff, the perfect soundtrack to a boozy Saturday night knees up at the local roadhouse/music club, but she proves her worth as a versatile vocalist on the slower, quieter cuts such as “Too Late Now” and “Let Love Surround You”.
Neat blues track, “Don’t Lie To The One You Love”, features some nice Hammond licks from Bob Long. Craig Calvert’s guitar skills come to the fore on “Diamonds and Gold”.
By Christopher Weston
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’
Jan James kwam pas bij mij in de belangstelling bij het uitbrengen van haar album 'Justify'. Een heerlijke mix van blues en soul deed me toen nog meer verlangen van deze soulvolle stem en nu is er haar nieuwste album 'Time Bomb'.
Jan James groeide op in Michigan en voelde in haar jeugd dat muziek wel het antwoord zou gaan worden op haar verlangens. Zo ontmoette ze ook op de plaatselijke universiteit haar partner songwriter en gitarist Craig Calvert. Ze waren een perfecte match en hun muziek kleurden de diverse paletten in blues, soul en rock 'n roll. Hun gezamenlijke verhuis richting Chicago kon dan ook als een blessing voor de blues worden beschouwd. Ze traden zo op in "Buddy Guy's Blues Legends" in de "House Of Blues" en stond zo samen met haar partner Craig Calvert ook op het podium met iconische namen als Koko Taylor, Little Feat maar ook met BB King en de "King of Soul" Mr. Dynamite, JB.
Met deze 'Time Bomb' levert deze diva toch al mooi haar 12de album af nadat ze reeds in 1992 haar reeks opende met 'Last Train'. Een album dat mede door het matige succes twee jaar later een re-lease kreeg. Op dit album levert ze on 13 tracks af, een album waarbij je vanaf opener 'Swinging in The Sweet Sunshine' gekluisterd blijft aan je speakers tot en met het afsluitende 'Always The Blues'.
De geschreven nummers, hoe mooi ook, zijn een reflectie van haar beeld om onze soms chaotische samenleving waardoor de songs nog intenser bij je binnen komen. Een mooi voorbeeld van haar soulvolle blues is zonder meer het prachtige 'Sometimes Love's Like That'. Moeilijk om hiervan niet te gaan houden. Eentje dat je in diezelfde categorie kan onderbrengen is ook 'Don't Lie to the One You Love'. Swingende blues 'n soul!
Een mooie cool down komt er dan aan met de ballad 'Love Is the Answer' waarna ze met haar band komt af te sluiten met een psychedelische wah-wah intro op 'Always the Blues', Jan James, now always to my attention.
From Blue Palace, there is something pleasingly retro about the James (www.janjames.com/bio) vocal delivery combined with her wholly romantic take on blues rock. I wouldn’t say that her voice is unique. I wouldn’t say that her presentation is in anyway different from a million and one other singers out there. I wouldn’t even say that her choice of songs is in anyway boundary breaking.
Even so, this lady has a style all her own. That is, her interpretive abilities are golden. She knows what to do with a song and she knows best to present it to your ear. Like Sinatra, that’s her talent. And that’s all she needs. And that’s why this album is recommended.
Mastering? You can hear a touch of compression around the edge of the mids and treble and there’s a measure of roll off around both, in general terms, the presentation is relatively warm and cuddly.
Jan James - Time Bomb (PhillyCheezeBlues.Blogspot.com)
2023 – Blue Palace Records
By Phillip Smith; June 3, 2023
Release Date : June 16, 2023
It has been over thirty years since Jan James released her first album Last Train. That record gained her a rather large fanbase in Europe. With creative partner guitarist Craig Calvert by her side, her latest and twelfth release Time Bomb is drenched with feeling and soul. James’ musical-wheelhouse is centered in American roots, and embraces each petal: R&B, Soul, Country, Rock, and Blues. Produced by Calvert, the album features thirteen original tracks cowritten by James and Calvert. With James on vocals and Calvert on guitar, the band consists of David Serman on harmonica, Bob Long on keyboards, Jake Loomis on drums/keyboards, and Brian Gephart on saxophone. Also appearing are backing vocalists Cheryl Wilson and Joyce Faison.
From the time the play button is pressed, I’m soaking up the feel-good vibrations of the Motown-esque “Swingin in the Sweet Sunshine”. This one surely takes me back to the classic female-driven vocal classics of the Sixties, and I absolutely love it. The bouncy rhythm on title-track “Time Bomb” quickly lures me in for brilliant track focused on a Miami street-walker. This song surely brings to my mind classics “Delta Dawn” and “Roxanne”. Serman throws down some serious harp to kick off “Blood on Your Hands”. I feel a strong Rolling Stones influence on this ripping track. It’s plumb terrific. “Love is the Answer” rolls in on a gentle wave, as James sings this with a soft and delicate approach. The blissful guitar solo from Calvert sounds amazing alongside Bart Kemp’swarm bassline.
James stated in the bio of her website www.janjames.com, “All of the songs from Time Bomb are inspired by the times we are living in. Writing these melodies and lyrics gives my soul comfort amidst this awful mess our society has created.” I can sure feel the comforting energy she poured in to this. It brings joy to me with each listen.
Jan James met her partner, songwriter/guitarist Craig Calvert, at Michigan State University. Jan grew up there in Michigan in a fishing resort that was run by her family. She sang in the church choir and learned to play the guitar from a Tennessee man she called "Catfish." Jan could sing well and everyone wanted to hear that. She meets her partner Craig Calvert in a cafe and immediately there was musical chemistry in the air. Calvert had just taken a break from his own punk band and was excited to embark on a new musical adventure with James.
They started playing together and developed a musical chemistry alongside a love for each other, which has grown into a big sound and feel colored with blues, soul and the sweet dynamics of rock's best. They gained a solid reputation in the Detroit area and Jan James was voted best singer by the Detroit Metro Times. Later both moved to the blues capital Chicago. They became one of the favorite bands in clubs such 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. In 1992 Z Records released their debut demo "Last Train". That demo was picked up by Provogue Records and they released the album "Last Train" in Europe in 1994. James launched a promotional tour, with acoustic and electric performances on radio and television and a whole series of concerts in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia. Three more albums followed with 1995's "Color Of The Rose", 1997's "Soul Desire" and the excellent 2000's "Limousine Blues". Jan James received standing ovations in a play performed at the Royal George Theater in Chicago, in which she played the role of blues legend Janis Joplin. After the albums "Ring Around The Moon" (2010), "Calling All Saints" (2017) and Justify (2020), James and her band have now made a clear statement in 2023 with their new album, "Time Bomb". where they are now.
So a lot of experience and that has led to "Time Bomb", an album that may sound like a typical quiet blues album when you listen to it, but her powerful voice and Calvert's guitar playing really take this record to another level. The road to this new record took James, along with Craig Calvert (guitar/bass), Jake Loomis (drums), Bob Long (keys), Brian Gephart (sax) and David Seman (harmonica) from the Midwest to Europe, through the studios of well-known producers, on stages with the biggest names in music. And it all started in a small cafe at Michigan State University. The new album has therefore become a record that encompasses, reflects and then surpasses history. In these 13 tracks, Jan and Craig intertwine universal themes with a slightly more direct and personal feel, making "Time Bomb" a mirror of the now.
The record opens wonderfully with retro grooves, in the bouncy "Swingin' in the Sweet Sunshine", and the Motown sounds are not far away. All the songs of "Time Bomb" are inspired by the times we live in. Writing these melodies and lyrics gives Jan and Craig's comfort in the midst of this horrible mess our society has created. Which is evident in the next two songs, "Stronger Now" and "Desperate Times". Tragic desperate situations happen everywhere, almost every day, but we have to find a way to work through the emotions, is the message. Jan James has a powerful, soulful and also dark voice that fits the slower, moody "Sometimes Love's Like That" with again those beautiful sax sounds from Brian Gephart and the hopeful "Let Love Surround You" in which Calvert closes this song with a beautiful subdued blues solo.
So even with the heaviest inspirations, the music leans towards hope and healing. And are we ready for a more emotional guitar solo in the title track, "Time Bomb", which confirms the chemistry between Jan's soulful vocals and Craig's guitar playing, but Calvert also unleashes beautiful blues solos in many other songs. The message is always happiness, find it, see it, feel it, grab it, hold it, give it - embrace and share all the love you can find in "Too Late Now". In the following songs there is audibly also a lot of soul in Jan and Craig's expression of happiness, although a title like "Blood on Your Hands" suggests otherwise. This song was a response to the uprising of January 6, the storming of the US Capitol. Writing about political events is not their thing, but it came out so normal. Craig made the music and the lyrics wrote themselves. Jan's songwriting and vocal empathy are at their best in this cheerful song, but also when she conveys her reflections on love and relationships with sincerity and candor in "Love is the Answer", again with Calvert's beautiful blues solo on the egg
Jan James – Time Bomb
Label: Blue Palace Records/Bertus
Jan James honed her powerful vocals in a church choir, and learned guitar licks from a Tennessean named Catfish. She made her way from a family-run fishing resort in central Michigan to downtown Chicago to become one of The Windy City’s most enduring female artists. Her creative partnership with Craig Calvert is a decades-old exploration of roots music of all kinds – rock n’ roll, soul, country, and of course, the blues.
The path to ‘Time Bomb,’ the newest record, took them from the Midwest to Europe, through the studios of notable producers, onto stages with the biggest names in music. And it all started in a small café near Michigan State University.
Jan and Craig were both students there. She was in a coffee shop duo, and he was in a punk band. Chemistry brought them together to form a blues-rock band that earned Jan “Best Female Vocalist” by the Detroit Metro Times. They moved to Chicago in the early 1990s, and leaned hard into the spotlight on the city’s vibrant music scene.
In addition to recording with Jim Peterik (Survivor) and Jim Dickinson, Jan and Craig secured a publishing deal with MCA. They became favorites in such venues as Buddy Guy’s Blues Legends and The House of Blues, performed at Grammy events and dozens of the city’s famed street festivals, and shared the stage with Koko Taylor, John Mayall, Little Feat, and James Brown. For the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary celebration, they were billed with Jeff Beck and BB King. Jan was asked to sing backup for Bruce Willis at the grand opening of the Planet Hollywood, and played Janis Joplin in Love, Janis.
Their first album, Last Train, was not just a critical success in the U.S.; it was picked up by the the Dutch label Provogue, which laid the foundation for Jan’s massive and ongoing European fan base. Twelve records followed through the years, all eliciting the raves such as “voices of the caliber of Jan James’ are rare in today’s pop music…” and “her upbeat rock/blues is exceptionally radio-friendly and very stylishly executed.”
Which brings us to Time Bomb, a record that encompasses, reflects, and then surpasses all of that history. In these 13 tracks, Jan and Craig enmesh universal themes with something more immediate and personal, making Time Bomb a mirror to the now.
“All of the songs from Time Bomb are inspired by the times we are living in. Writing these melodies and lyrics gives my soul comfort amidst this awful mess our society has created. “Desperate Times” speaks to this specifically. Tragic desperate episodes are happening everywhere, almost every day but we must find a way to move thru the emotions. If this song can help anybody get by, I will be grateful,” said Jan.
“Blood on Your Hands” was a response to the January 6th insurrection. “I am not usually interested in writing about political happenings, but it just came out so easily. Once I heard the piece of music that Craig had created, the lyrics wrote themselves. It makes me feel better every time I hear it.”
So even with the toughest of inspirations, the music leans toward hope and healing. Jan says, “The over-all message would be “happiness.” Find it, see it, feel it, grab it, hold it, give it – embrace and share all the love you can find.” There’s a lot of soul in Jan and Craig’s expression of happiness. Heavily influenced by Motown sounds, they “let them all live on this album.” This is especially evident on the bouncy “Swingin’ in the Sweet Sunshine” which opens the record with some delightful retro grooves.
“Always the Blues” is a perfect bookend to close the album. It is quintessential Jan and Craig songcraft, going back to the core of both their partnership and shared love of the blues. “Craig creates music beds of all shapes and sizes, and then I get to dig through them to find treasures. It’s a bit like magic for me. For this track, I was blown away by the guitar leads he recorded. It made me cry! It’s the perfect way to end this album.”
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