James Armstrong (Catfood Records)
Want a good, solid blues album with a great comeback story behind it? Check out Guitar Angels.
Los Angeles native James Armstrong, who has had permanent nerve damage in his left hand and arm since a brutal home invasion attack in 1996, offers more evidence of how music — in its purest form — comes from the heart and soul, not as a result of overpowering or trying to out-muscle a musical instrument. Armstrong still only has full use of his first two fingers on his playing hand, but you'd never know that from the sweet sounds that emanate from this disc, a reminder of how pauses between notes are as important as the note-playing itself, as are the rhythm, beat, musical vision, and writing.
Is Armstrong going to out-shred Jeff Beck? No. But you can hear hints of Armstrong's musical mentor, the late Albert Collins, on this disc, as well as the four "guitar angels" he honors, James Armstrong, Sr., Coco Montoya, Joe Louis Walker, and Mike Ross. Armstrong's opening number, Grandma's Got a New Friend, a playful, tongue-in-cheek nod to Baby Boomers not acting their age, is a hoot. Great stuff from a skilled guitarist-vocalist who grew up in the company of some of the world's best blues musicians.
The album has 11 songs — nine originals, a cover of the Eagles hit Take It to the Limit and a cover of a song written by one of my favorite blues guitarists, the late Johnny Copeland's Blues Ain't Nothin'.