Lets set the scene. Youre an up-and-coming young blues guitarist. Youve just recorded your debut album -- one that receives critical acclaim both here and in Europe. Youre 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; youre attacked, very severely hurt, almost killed. In an instant, everything youve worked and sacrificed for is gone, your career is in ruins and your future looks bleak. What do you do?
If youre James Armstrong, you spend the next three years working, rehabbing, and practicing. You record an album just to show youre 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 youre finally ready to record again. The results: Got It Goin On.
Here is an album that offers a real showcase for Armstrongs growing talent, both as a guitarist and as a songwriter. You cant 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 Armstrongs theme song, "Another Dream." Armstrong sings -- "Ive worked so hard for these things that only tie me down / If I can just keep goin, maybe my time will come around / A womans look, a friendly smile./ Things could be better than they seem / I need another dream," -- and you know what hes 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 hes felt.
Armstrong acknowledges that he can no longer play guitar as fast as he once did (although hes 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. Armstrongs guitar is clear, and its 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 dont 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. Im 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 whats really important. Armstrong dedicates Got It Goin On to his sons, telling them, and the world, he loves them. Priorities.
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