James Leg’s latest solo effort “Blood on the Keys” is flat out amazing
I have written a lot of words about music in the last few years. Taken as a whole, I’ve done more writing about music than all the writing I did in high school and college combined, including the papers I wrote for other people (yes, I did that—it was college and I needed the money.)
In committing that much electronic ink to digital paper I have developed some recurring observations that, despite their repetition, are only used when absolutely appropriate. Often I admonish you, dear music lover, to see one band or another now, during their rise to the top, so that one day you can say, “I saw them when.”
This week’s feature is about a man named John Myers, known professionally as James Leg, and kids…I saw him when.
I saw him when he was with the Black Diamond Heavies. I saw him when he was one of the hottest keyboard players in the area. I saw him when he was in demand for damn near everyone’s project and when he threw in for a few gigs with Porkchop Holder and Dave Brown at the Lizard Lounge.
I can’t say precisely what sort of “hero’s journey” he embarked on since the last time I saw him, but I do know that he left as one of the best and is returning as something so far beyond that, I don’t know how to express it without being accused of hyperbole.
He’ll be headed home soon after an extensive six-month tour of Europe, just in time for the release of his newest solo album, “Blood on the Keys,” and this album is ten gallons of liquid fire in a five-gallon bucket. His vocal style is so much like a particular famous piano player/songwriter I mention too often, it’s uncanny, but it’s just as much Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Dr. John. Leg puts the guts in guttural and the gravel in your craw, but the vocals are barely even the surface of this amazing album.
“Human Lawn Dart” is the opening track, awash in booming, funky drums counterpointed by a minimalist but spine rattling bass. Leg’s 180 proof vocals kick in and the keys…what Billy Gibbons is to lead guitar, Leg is to the keyboard. With your eyes closed and the headphones cranked up, it’s easy to imagine yourself in a crowd of five thousand people all grooving to the same thunderous tune.
“Hugging the Line” is the pulse pounding follow up. The combination of organ and female chorus lends a quasi-gospel sound to a song that would make the devil get up and dance. “St. Michel Shuffle” trades in some of the pure, raw sound of the other tracks for a slicker, almost jazzier feel with layered, arpeggiated minor chords forming the backdrop for a remarkable, haunting violin solo. Call it “electric gypsy,” it is that rarest of beasts; a familiar sound/style updated and interpreted in an altogether new way.
Truth be told the entire album could be described that way, which is amazing really. If I’ve heard one, I’ve heard a hundred guys try unsuccessfully to pull off what Leg does here with ease.
Once again, space prevents me from delving in to each individual track the way I’d like to, but I have to mention track eight, “Tao Te Leg,” if only because it is a clear example of the genius technique that infuses the whole set of tunes. At heart, the tune is a familiar chord progression, but everything from Leg’s lyrics, to his ample use of distortion, phasing, rhythm and countless other elements takes that familiar progression and makes it sound entirely new and wonderful.
Here’s the thing about the blues: out of a thousand guys trying to play it, one hundred might actually be good and out of that hundred, five or ten might be doing something that hasn’t already been done to death. Out of that five or ten, one might be doing something that is actually pleasurable and exciting to hear and James Leg/John Myers is that one in a thousand.
Ipso facto, this ain’t your daddy’s blues record.
I’m not done with this album yet; I intend to finish writing about the rest of the tracks in another feature closer to Leg’s show at J.J.’s Bohemia on October 17th where he will be appearing along with friend, former bandmate and newly signed blues god Mark Holder and MPH. Rounding out that bill will be Dirty Deep, from Alsace, France, a band likened to Left Lane Cruiser if Left Lane Cruiser were French.
Look for the second half of this album review the week before that show and in the meantime search out James Leg online. To slightly revamp my well-worn expression, if you didn’t see him when, see him now because the next time you hear about James Leg, tickets are going to be $60 a head and likely sold out.