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BEN JAMES/SECOND LIFE (Starlight Records BJ022457)

Ben James is a California artist who specializes in acoustic blues while occasionally diving into the electric side as well. He handles vocals, guitar, and harmonica here. This release also features Judy Claire on harmony vocals, Bill Hare on bass, Dirk Damonte on piano, and Mike Vanderhule on drums.

The album was recorded at Bill Hare Productions and produced by Ben James and Bill Hare. That information deserves a special note because this is one the cleanest sounding acoustic blues releases that Iíve ever heard. Each instrument is extremely well-recorded and background noise is nonexistent here. If you close your eyes youíd think they were playing right there in the room with you. I usually donít comment on the recording process because todayís standards are very high to begin with, this one easily rises above those standards.

This release contains 1 Ben James original and 11 well-chosen covers. I usually discount releases with so few originals but in this case the performances are of a truly exceptional quality. Cover heavy or not this is a great disc from start to finish. A lively "Caledonia" kicks things off and a rocking "Messing With The Kid" quickly jumps into high gear. Other highlights include Willie Dixonís "Hoochie Coochie Man", Jimi Hendrixís "The Wind Cries Mary", and Bob Dylanís "All Along The Watchtower." Ben slows things down for a great reading of "Since I Fell For You" which segues nicely into the classic "Born Under A Bad Sign."

The one original track, "Jazz Thing", is just that, a jazz thing with a harmonica and bass-driven sound. The instrumental piece gets into a nice groove and stays there. Itís a good example of Benís harmonica abilities and shows that he does have some compositional talent as well.

Ben James is a great talent. Heís exceptional on both harmonica and guitar and manages to adapt his vocal style to match the feeling of each song. Whether slow or fast, acoustic or electric, harmonica or guitar-driven he manages to turn in a great performance on each track here. A copy of "Second Life" belongs in every serious blues collection.