‘Time Bomb’ – Jan James


 There’s a sweet spot where blues, rock and soul intersect with big guitar riffs, keys and horns. Chicago found it in the seventies, Southside Johnny has made it his lifetime’s work and Springsteen hit it perfectly with his soul covers album ‘Only the Strong Survive’. ‘Time Bomb’ is right in the centre of that sweet spot. Jan James has, as they say, paid her dues on the local Chicago scene in clubs, festivals and theatres, picking up a lot of respect along the way.

The influences she’s been exposed to shine through on ‘Time Bomb’, from the opening jazzy lilt of ‘Swingin’ in the Sweet Sunshine’ to the pure blues of the appropriately-named closing song ‘Always the Blues’. There are songs in traditional blues stylings; ‘Too Late Now’ is a slow blues given a country tinge with the piano part ‘Let Love Surround You’ is a slow blues, opening with a clipped guitar part that gives way to an over-driven guitar in the chorus. What’s noticeable on the album is that although Jan James has a powerhouse voice, it’s kept under a tight rein most of the time and doesn’t very often get into Janis Joplin territory.

‘Don’t It Feel Good’ has a midtempo soul feel while the anti-materialistic ‘Diamonds and Gold’ and the femme fatale song ‘Time Bomb’ both hint at eighties productions. The songs that jump out as being a little different are the two that address social and political issues. In Jan’s words, “All of the songs from ‘Time Bomb’ are inspired by the times we are living in.” ‘Desperate Times’ is a slow piece with some subtle keys that laments the state of the world but acknowledges that we all still need to carry on. ‘Blood on Your Hands’ has a much more direct message; it’s squarely aimed at Donald Trump for his part in the January 6th insurrection and it’s angry, very angry.

If you’re expecting an album of standard 12-bar blues tunes, ‘Time Bomb’ should be a pleasant surprise. You’ll find classic blues but you’ll also find elements of soul, country, swing, eighties FM rock and more besides. The arrangements are all classy and Jan’s vocal, which can go all the way to eleven on the raucous scale, is generally controlled throughout the album; powerful but controlled, and it’s refreshing to hear a few elements of the protest song in the mix as well. ‘Time Bomb’ is a collection of songs that work on a musical and lyrical level with some powerful and restrained musical performances. What’s not to like?

‘Time Bomb’ is released in the UK on Friday July 27th on Blue Palace Records (BPR 33318).

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