James Solberg "Real Time"

James Solberg "Real Time"
Blues Eclipse Records

CD review by Roger-Z (8/7/04)

When I first learned to play blues-rock guitar, I studied a few classic albums: "Super Session" by Al Kooper, Stephen Stills, and Mike Bloomfield, "Live Wire/Blues Power" by Albert King, "John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers Featuring Eric Clapton," and "Crinklewood Green" by Ten Years After. James Solberg's "Real Time" belongs on that elite stack of records.

Solberg made his name as a blues gunslinger supreme, accompanying such blues greats as Johnny Young, Big Walter Horton, Jimmy Reed, Eddie Taylor, and Luther Allison. A road warrior putting in 300 dates per year, this Grammy nominee and two-time W. C. Handy Award winner has managed to find the time to put out five solo CDs. "Real Time," the latest, represents his debut on the Blues Eclipse label.

Some people love barbeque sauce so much that they'll put it on anything. Solberg slathers blues guitar over a variety of musical styles and beats on this album: 2/4 rock ("It's Alright"), medium 12 bar shuffle ("Real Time"), Motown R&B ("Let The Teardrops Fall"), funky blues ("Secondhand Smoke" and "Down, Down, Down"), hard rock ("Fightin' All 'Round The World"), Chuck Berry rock ("Champaign Dreams"), slow blues ("Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven", "Ever Seen A Rainbow", and "Gotta Play My Blues"), and uptempo 12 bar shuffle ("Rockin' The Cradle").

A talented singer, songwriter, and arranger, Solberg composed ten of the twelve tracks. The two covers leaven the album with a refreshing touch of humor. Take the lyrics to John Lindberg's "Champaign Dreams:" "Helicopters, Lear jets, stretch limousines. With my piece of shit car, I'll never make the scene. Oh Lord, you know I've paid my dues. I want a Rock & Roll life style. But here I am livin' the blues." Amen to that! And how about Don Nix's "Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven?" "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die."

This album serves as a primer on Fender Stratocaster blues guitar. Ably backed by Larry Byrne (Hammond organ), John Lindberg (bass), Tom Hunter (piano), and Robb Stupka (drums), Solberg and the group exhibit a rare commodity in the world of popular music -- taste. From the fat, screaming, overdriven lines on the opening track, "It's Alright," to the rockin' Chuck Berry riffs of "Champaign Dreams," to the B.B. King sounds on "Real Time" and "Rockin' The Cradle," to the jazz-inflected slow blues of "Gotta Play My Blues," James manages to pay tribute to the masters while at the same time making it all sound uniquely his own. As Solberg sings in "Gotta Play My Blues," "If you want to play the blues, you've got to have some soul."

2004 Roger-Z