Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Marion James – Northside Soul – EllerSoul Records

If you like bluesy soul music…you’ll love this!

Published on July 23, 2012

Marion James – Northside Soul – EllerSoul Records

Marion James – Northside Soul – EllerSoul Records ER61201, 58:15 ****:

(Marion Jones – vocals; Brad Ellsworth – drums; Tod Ellsworth – bass, moog, piano; Ivan Appelrouth – guitar; Steve Bassett – piano, organ; Almeta Ingram-Miller – vocals; Cheryl M. Beaver – vocals; Dusty Simmons – drums, percussion; Scott Frock – trumpet; George Sheppard – drums; Bob Miller – trumpet; JC Kuhl – tenor saxophone, clarinet, baritone saxophone; Toby Whitaker – trombone; Stefan Demetriadis – tuba; Roger Carroll – tenor saxophone; Howard Smith – baritone Saxophone; Ronnie Owens – harmonica)

Like many blues artists, Marion James was introduced to music in church. The gospel roots (and her mother’s collection of 78s) formed her musical destiny. As a young r&b performer in the early sixties, she was backed by a band that included Jimi Hendrix on guitar and Billy Cox on bass. In 1966, she recorded a top ten hit, “That’s My Baby” for Excello Records in Nashville. However, her proudest achievement might be The Musicians Reunion which raises funds for struggling musicians and cancer research. Nashville’s “Queen Of The Blues” continues to record and perform around the world.

Northside Soul is James’ latest release on EllerSoul Records, and it rocks. Featuring 13 tracks of blues/soul music, the “Queen” is backed by the cream of modern blues session players, including a full horn section. The opening track, “I Fell” is a robust lament of love gone wrong. James’ snarling vocals are riveting, with great backup singers (Almeta Ingram-Miller and Cheryl M. Beaver). Ivan Applerouth’s crisp guitar fits in perfectly. The groove-laden “Smokin’ Hot” has roadhouse attitude. The addition of a horn chorus adds some old time soul. There is an unmistakable blues swagger on “I’m Just What You’re Looking For” (with another blistering solo by Appelrouth). It’s amazing that a singer has such intensity late in her career.

The session players are electrifying. Second line New Orleans flair defines “Next Time You See Me”. The mix between the layered instrumentals and James’ voice is excellent. “Blues Recipe” invokes gospel fervor with an organ (Steve Bassett). The rhythm section of Dusty Simmons (drums) and producer Tod Ellsworth is as tight as tight can be. Many of the songs are original compositions by James, but there is a smoking version of Willie Dixon’s classic, “I Just Want To Make Love To You”. The funk arrangement sounds like homage to James Brown. There is a nice twist with a traditional Delta blues opening. “A Man-Size Job” also evokes an r&b dance feel.

Clearly James has command over blues and soul music. But she is comfortable with slower paced material. “I Know A Good Thing” has all of the great Memphis hooks of Al Green or Booker T. Jones. James does a nice job on “Candy” with a jazzy, gritty performance. Roger Carroll contributes a smoky tenor saxophone solo.  Northside Soul is a welcome shot of Memphis culture.

TrackList: I Fell; Smokin’ Hot; Corrupted World; Crushing My Heart; I’m Just What You’re Looking For; Next Time You See Me; Blues Recipe; Mr. Blues; I Know A Good Thing; I Believe To My Soul; Candy; Man Size Job; I Just Want To Make Love To You.

—Robbie Gerson

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