James Leg – [Album]

James Leg – [Album]

Sunday, 13 September 2015
ARTIST: James Leg – [Album]
DATE: 09-13-15
REVIEW BY: Bill Adams
ALBUM: Below The Belt
LABEL: Alive! Records

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It might be hard to believe or remember now, but the piano was once the go-to, working class compositional implement – not the classy, poppy flavor-addition it often is now in the twenty-first century. In fact, it has really only been within the last eighty-five years or so that the instrument wasn’t everywhere; at one time – in addition to being the instrument on which classical concertos were composed – every hard-up and low-down, rough and tumble bar in creation had a piano somewhere on site. Some of those hard-played instruments may have featured some raised finish from where beer had been spilled on it, but they were always at least close to in tune and ready for play during particularly happy hours, and maybe for some really hard pounding on gin-soaked Saturday nights too. Jazz, blues and rock n’ roll would all not sound quite the same as they do if it weren’t for the piano, so it’s ironic that the most common place to find the instrument in the twenty-first century is in a concert hall – its finish well-waxed and meticulous – and seldom sounding as though they’re being played by hands with dirty fingernails.

It is that high-class, upper crust retirement which James Leg seeks to save the piano from on his new album, Below The Belt; in these ten tracks, Leg doesn’t just take the piano back to its lowdown and utilitarian roots, he gets the instrument dirty, rides it hard and doesn’t bother to wipe the stains off it after he’s done.

Sounding a little like the result of an unholy union between Tom Waits, Bob Log III and Jelly Roll Morton, James Leg immediately begins spilling cheap, bathtub hooch on “Dirty South” to openBelow The Belt and cures the song in two or three packs of cigarette butts and just a little sexy, slimy muck for good measure. The grisly, slinky sound of Leg’s Rhodes coupled with a Hammond organ and an acoustic piano which dominate the song are absolutely the focal point of attention here; the lyric sheet (which features couplets like “I’m livin’ on the bottom of a dirty south/ I’m ready to shove this gun in my mouth”) is fairly inconsequential by comparison – it’s the keys which will get seats wet – but that’s fine; the instrumental side of the song is more than satisfying enough as drummer Andy Jordy’s drums back Leg tightly and help inspire listeners’ hips to swing.

Listeners will be hooked by “Dirty South” without question, but Leg’s mojo just keeps working asBelow The Belt continues and rides everyone hard, dirty and good. Listeners will gasp as the harp and and religious undertones of “Up Above My Head” win converts before Leg produces the finest roadhouse rocker written for piano since Jerry Lee Lewis sobered up on “Drink It Away” and he really lets everyone know what’s on his mind and which head he’s thinking with by “Can’t Stop Thinking About It.” Of course, some listeners will scoff and complain that Leg has no depth in his musical persona and the fact that there is a slightly muffled high end about the production could be regarded as proof to that point, but those who make such arguments have utterly missed the point;Below The Belt needs to be as down and dirty as it is, needs to be unclean and needs to sound like it was recorded for nothing in order to be real and prove that it really is a “meaning of life” kind of experience for those who know that rock genius doesn’t need to come from six strings. That the album does those first two things clinches the third and it’s beautiful; now all we can hope for is an album which proves that James Leg can do something like this twice.




Below The Belt
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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