Musicians salute Elmore James on 100th birthday

In Flight with Elmore James

Proceeds from “Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James” go to MusiCares.

Every historic pillar of the blues deserves this treatment. Finally, to mark his 100th birthday, we have a full-scale, fitting tribute to Elmore James.

In 1965, English “upstarts” Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page paid homage to their hero with their “Tribute to Elmore.” James, 45, had passed away just two years prior. That fuzzy guitar duet perfectly captured the now-acknowledged “King of the Slide Guitar’s” dramatic way with the blues. Many have tried their hand at Elmore since, but this collection presents 13 brand new, wildly divergent takes on the man’s brilliance.

The cast of guitarists, singers, and equally stellar backing players infuse their performances with tremendous personality, beginning with young soul singer Elayna Boynton’s take on “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.” Not a popular James song to kick things off, but that’s part of the point, and charm, of the project. Besides being a revolutionary guitarist and powerful singer, James was quite an author, and many of his most colorful songs flew under the radar. Boynton, with guitarists Doug Lancio (John Hiatt) and Rick Holmstrom (Rod Piazza), along with bassist Viktor Krauss, and drummer/producer Marco Giovino, roll with resourcefulness, charisma, and glee. Addi McDaniel, of the New York twosome Addi & Jacq, takes “Dark and Dreary” into hillbilly/cabaret heaven, while Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne make “Strange Angels” something strangely intoxicating.

Several of James’ most popular blues do of course make the cut. Deborah Bonham (legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John’s sister) raves-up “Dust My Broom,” Jamey Johnson and Warren Haynes get suitably low with “It Hurts Me Too,” and Rodney Crowell takes a buoyant run through “Shake Your Moneymaker.”

But early on, the 77-year-old Welsh crooner Tom Jones steps up and basically steals the show, nailing “Done Somebody Wrong” to the wall. Jones personifies the spirit of an old bluesman, while holding strong to his identity. It’s a killer rendition.

Next up, Warren Haynes with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons deliver the kind of raucous rocking blues you’d expect from them, and James, with the axe-fueled “Mean Mistreatin’ Woman.”

Although we lost Elmore James just as the American blues resurgence was taking the world by storm, his music has remained in the hearts and minds of so many, transcending generations and climes. MusiCares gets all the proceeds from the sale of this album, which is another great reason to buy, and rejoice!

-Tom Clarke

  • Various Artists
    ‘Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James”
    Label: Sylvan Songs

About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 20 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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