Classic rock? Kinda, but not as you’d know it
There is a lot to like about Old James even before you have listened to a note.
First off they are from Canada and music from Canada always seems to be cool. Second, they are a trio, and as regular readers will know, it is this website’s unshakable belief that there is something just right about a three-piece band.
Old James are no exception.
Built around the rhythm section of brothers Brian and Chris Stephenson, but with stellar guitar work from Andy Thompson, the nine full length tracks on “Speaks Volumes” (there is a tenth, the “Bass-ik Instincts” interlude) mark OJ out as a rather mighty proposition.
There is a gleeful scream at the start of album opener “Don’t Put It On Me” that suggests that they fancy getting in all kinds of trouble. If its not quite Axl Rose in “Welcome To The Jungle” then it’s still the work of three men who know where the fun is at.
Then there’s the all-important opening riff. A swinging, bluesy fuzzed up tidal wave, it recalls Cream or Free and is perfectly happy with its lot.
If, at this point you are thinking: “yeah great, but why do I need yet another retro rock n roll band in my life?” we take your point, but we’d respectfully add that while “Speaks Volumes” knows where its roots are – and like MV is probably extremely annoyed that it was born too late to fully appreciate these heroes – this is not some exercise in homage.
Instead, on songs like “Lemons” they infuse some grunge into things. Coming on like Stone Temple Pilots circa “Shangri-La-Di-Da” this is almost the perfect snapshot of what they are trying to do.
“Words As Weapons” bursts out of the blocks as if rockin’ was the most natural thing in the world, “So Real” chugs along and would have “radio hit” written all over it if anyone bought records anymore, and “Salutations” does something a little more primal and dark – “I’m gonna break this world, with truth as my hammer” offers Stephenson, and there is a hint of Black Crowes here.”
“Kill Off The Rose” is built around a majestic riff and would doubtless sound superb live. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that Old James’ natural habitat might be some stage somewhere, because this is music designed to be organic and vibrant.
To that end “Master Imploder” is a souped-up bluesy boogie, having to live life in the fast lane, and “Eugene” is constructed around a thumping bass groove to hide its dark lyrics – which you might not even notice on first listen given the good time nature of the music.
As it ends with its title track its hard not to think that Old James have pulled off a rather neat trick. “Speaks Volumes” – both the song and the album – sucker you into thinking you are hearing something instantly recognisable, then they cheerfully subvert those expectations. A fresh twist on Classic Rock, if you will.