November 2000

James Armstrong - Got it Goin' On
HighTone HCD8126
Released: 2000

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Let’s set the scene. You’re an up-and-coming young blues guitarist. You’ve just recorded your debut album -- one that receives critical acclaim both here and in Europe. You’re getting ready to venture out onto the road to support your record and try to drum up some national exposure. Then, just as everything is starting to look good, you awake one night to find a knife-wielding intruder in your home; you’re attacked, very severely hurt, almost killed. In an instant, everything you’ve worked and sacrificed for is gone, your career is in ruins and your future looks bleak. What do you do?

If you’re James Armstrong, you spend the next three years working, rehabbing, and practicing. You record an album just to show you’re back; then you work, rehab, and practice some more. Soon, more of the old skills return, you develop new ones (a fabulous slide-guitar technique, for instance) and you gain a new outlook on life. You feel you’re finally ready to record again. The results: Got It Goin’ On.

Here is an album that offers a real showcase for Armstrong’s growing talent, both as a guitarist and as a songwriter. You can’t traverse the paths Armstrong has without obtaining a healthy dose of real-world experiences to draw on, and he has populated Got It Goin’ On with songs that express all that happened to him. As an example, listen to what should become Armstrong’s theme song, "Another Dream." Armstrong sings -- "I’ve worked so hard for these things that only tie me down / If I can just keep goin’, maybe my time will come around / A woman’s look, a friendly smile./ Things could be better than they seem / I need another dream," -- and you know what he’s been through. And his guitar work -- so slow, so full of meaning -- reaches deep inside to grab your soul and make it feel the pain he’s felt.

Armstrong acknowledges that he can no longer play guitar as fast as he once did (although he’s getting better all the time). However, what he may have lost in speed has been more than made up for by a newfound understanding. He can put more expression into fewer notes -- being able to say more with less, so to speak. It helps that his supporting cast understands this as well.

Sound quality here is only average. There is nothing particularly great about the sound of Got It Goin’ On, but there is nothing all that awful, either. Armstrong’s guitar is clear, and it’s easy to follow every lick. The bass is full, but mixed down a bit too low to be heard easily. The organ throbs with authority, but the drums, unfortunately, are compressed dynamically. One nice point: There is a wonderful, honky-tonk-sounding piano throughout that adds enormously to the sound.

While both the songs and the music on Got It Goin’ On show great potential, this is not a fully realized album. Many of the songs start out strong, but don’t seem to go anywhere. This is a minor problem, however, and one that will surely be rectified as Armstrong gains more experience and begins to put his songwriting and guitar playing talents together. I’m looking forward to that day. As it is, this is an album that marks James Armstrong as a major talent to be watched closely. While things could have been better, if he keeps going at this rate, his time will come around.

Side note: Sometimes it takes adversity to show you what’s really important. Armstrong dedicates Got It Goin’ On to his sons, telling them, and the world, he loves them. Priorities.