Ravine Records (label)
17 October 2016 (released)
16 November 2016
Darrin James Band's third full-length effort is a brilliant funk-fusion trip which firmly retains the grit of each style it embodies to produce a powerhouse statement of an album.
There was a time when Detroit was truly the crossroads of America. The blues bubbled up from the south, the cosmopolitan swagger was shipped in from the east and it was all driven by the middle-class dream and dregs of the Motor City manufacturing monster. That crucible has produced some of modern music's quintessential fusions. Darrin James, the Kentucky-born, New York schooled singer-songwriter and band leader has soaked up the inspiration in the soil of his old haunts and set up shop in nearby Ann Arbor Michigan where he has assembled a dynamite backing band to help him create Strange Storm.
The album kicks off with '60s folk-style, hopping and stumbling fingerpicking with vocals that similarly shuffle and sputter in oddly poetic fashion. James' voice harkens Springsteen covering Guthrie (which Springsteen himself is fond of doing). The lyrics eloquently question the piety of those who hide behind religious dogma instead of simply 'being good for goodness sake'. To compare the opener to early Dylan would be simplistic but you wouldn't be wrong.
From those folksy beginnings, James and his band hit the gas with the tight funk, stop-start groove of 'Strange Storm'. Imagine Tom Waits, backed by James Brown's band with wailing sax and smokin' hot backups (courtesy of Detroit's Queen of the Blues Thornetta Davis) to start... and then it really takes off. This crack band throws it all in the pot for a swirling vortex of a breakdown. 'All Around Us' keeps the blistering fusion going with a scathing indictment of 2016's climate of unrest. James and Davis once again howl in a blazing duet.
Avant-Garde instrumental 'Slow Trickle or the Rising Tide' shows off the group's improvising prowess with fluttering sax layered over meandering mallets and spacey synths. 'You Never Know' rides on slinky slide guitar and 3 am rock organ. James' voice has the rumble and grit of a one-ton truck barrelling down a rocky logging road. The jazzy horn-backed 'Bombs Away' easily could have been a hit at Woodstock, driven relentlessly by a rebellious cowbell. The album is bookended by another Dylan throwback with 'Still Believe in Love' to give reflection to the whole experience.
The Darrin James Band have created a moaning and sputtering funk-fusion gem. Never persuaded to fall into the smooth jazz trap that so many fusion acts let themselves fall victim to. Strange Storm is bold, insolent and audacious. He does not mince words. His mores are on full display. Furthermore, the entire band plays with the same balls-out expression. Strange Storm is a brazen yet beautiful piece of philosophically political art that you can also boogie to.