James Armstrong, Alex Wilson | Buddy Guy's Legends | Blues, Gospel, and R&B | Chicago Reader

James Armstrong, Alex Wilson Recommended Soundboard Image

When: Sat., May 21, 9:30 p.m. 2016

Since the 2014 release of James Armstrong’s most recent album, Guitar Angels (Catfood), Glenn Frey of the Eagles has passed away. So while Armstrong’s remake of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” is no posthumous tribute, let’s still give him credit for reworking the tune well beyond recognition. The original 1975 version is a slowish tribute to Philadelphia soul just moody enough that any contemporary blues artist could easily redo the song unchanged. But this LA-based singer-guitarist took it one step further and refashioned it as a kind of T-Bone Walker shuffle—and considering his interpretation still makes sense without referring back to the original, it’s safe to say he’s winning all the way. Beginning with his 1995 debut album Sleeping With a Stranger, Armstrong has carved a niche for himself similar to the path taken by Joe Louis Walker, setting his reflective lyrics against a soul-blues background. Past the obligatory clever redo of a standard, the other tracks on Guitar Angels give Armstrong space to tell his own tales, and while the album opens with the jokey jump-blues of “Grandma’s Got a New Friend,” the rest of the record is far more serious. Plenty of attention has been focused on Armstrong’s guitar playing, but he’s also long had a knack for recounting stories worthy of the neighborhood griot—if he actually were moving to Nashville as in the song of that name, he’d certainly be able to hold his own at the city’s late-night sessions, where songwriters pass the guitar around and sing their latest creations. He might even hear a few cover versions of his own material.

James Porter

Price: $20

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