James Oliver was awarded the UK Blues Federation award for Emerging Blues Artist of the year (voted by all its members rather than a panel), beating out a couple of very highly thought of youngsters in Toby Lee and Marcus Praestgaard and is now releasing his first solo album.

He was a member of Welsh Blues & Rock band Glas and released two albums with them and went solo around a year back.

I have to say that I was surprised by the album. It manages to combine a raw and harsh sound with some fine production and songwriting – especially the numbers written with Dawson Smith (another South Wales resident)and a few well selected covers in Big Joe Turner’s ‘TV Mama’ & ‘Honey Crush’ and a killer version of ‘Misirlou’.

There is a fine tradition of Welsh axemen including Mick Jones & Dave Edmunds and he definitely has their qualities although I feel that, as a guitarist, he is very much in the line of Wilko Johnson in his sharp and hard riffery. Vocally he doesn’t have a powerful voice but it fits perfectly with his style of playing especially on a track such as ‘She Was The One’ and I like the fact that he doesn’t try and put on a fake American accent.

A lot of his music harks back to classic Rock & Roll, especially his slide playing and the accompaniment from Billy Lee Williams on Piano, keyboards and harmonica definitely takes it there.

I can easily see why he got so many votes for his award. The music has real punch and ‘pizzazz’and the band sound as though they are enjoying playing together. As debut solo albums go, it’s very good and well worth checking out.