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James Kinds - Love You From the Top

Delmark Records

15 tracks/61:21

We are all familiar with the well-worn tale of a musician who career spans several decades before they finally achieve some measure of success. Perhaps the best example of the rags-to-riches story is singer Bettye Lavette, whose perseverance took her from obscurity to performing at President Obama’s inauguration festivities.

James Kinds has received some measure of recognition at several points in his career. In the late 70’s, he was considered a rising star on the Chicago blues scene. But the tide of changing musical tastes at that time made it difficult for Kinds to extend his popularity beyond the west side of the city. He later headed for Los Angeles where he did session work for Ike Turner, an arrangement that did not pan out. Another move in 1993 put Kind in Dubuque, Iowa and led to a partnership with the All-Night Riders that lasted for more than a decade. Eventually they recorded three cds on the leader’s Full Clip label. In 2008, the singer was awarded a spot in the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame.

Now the rest of the world gets a chance to experience the artistry of Mr. Kinds. The all-original set list is delivered with a vocal style that conjures up comparisons to Syl Johnson. Kinds grew up singing in the church, training that allows his voice to glide into the upper register of his vocal range. Most of the time Kinds sings with an urgency and taut emotional edge that have long been trademarks of the authentic Chicago west side sound. His guitar work features a bright tone that works well with the jangly lines he lays down.

On the title track, Kinds delivers a stirring vocal that gets a boost from the presence of Eddie Shaw on tenor sax. “Katie” is another fiery performance as Kinds professes his love for a mistreating woman with Shaw wailing away in support. The pace slows down on “Mason Dixon Line Blues” as Kinds narrates the story of his journey from Mississippi to Chicago with searing intensity. Another highlight is the vivid portrayal of his affections for another woman on “Johnny Mae”.

Kinds testifies with gospel-like fervor over potent soul groove on “I Got a Woman”, while his vocal on “Take a Look at Yourself” blurs the distinctions between soul and the church. “Body Slam” is straight-ahead rock & roll with a brief guitar solo from the leader. There are plenty of vocalists that would play up the humorous aspects of “I Didn’t Go Home” but Kinds performance makes it clear that he intimately familiar with this tale of a man getting drunk and driving another woman home. “Crack Headed Woman” suffers from weak lyrics but Kinds hits the mark on “My Mama Told Me”, a slow blues describing his mother’s attempts to protect her son from a woman that may be too hot to handle.

In addition to Shaw, Kinds gets support from Al Pool on guitar, Anthony Dotson on bass and Claude L. Thomas on drums. While the leader is a good guitar player, his solos are brief excursions that serve as a break from his singing. And that is what will excite listeners about this release – the power and heartfelt impact of Kinds vocal work. He couples sincerity with an insistent drive that enlivens each cut. conveying an honest assessment of his world and its troubles. This one is definitely worth a listen.

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL

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