Blues at the Border

L.A. guitarist James Armstrong’s first recording, 1995’s Sleeping With a Stranger on HighTone Records, invited comparison to Robert Cray, whose 1983 Bad Influence (HighTone) bore the stamp of label honcho Bruce Bromberg, who also wrote songs for both men. Each album featured their fondness for soul blues (for which their voices are admirably suited) versus the straight-ahead gritty 12-bar blues of, say, Muddy Waters. The comparisons to Cray still apply as Armstrong’s supple voice is heard to good effect here on 11 songs (more soul than blues) that depict various dilemmas facing modern man. The title track, for example, is a litany of border-crossing problems that would be funny if it weren’t so close to the truth. Set to a catchy rhythm enhanced by his slide guitar, Armstrong warns “Have your papers in order, you see the world has changed—we’ve got blues at the border” and goes on to list what you need to cross the Mexican border, e.g., “your passport, a picture of your grandmother, your uncle’s shoe size.” “Devil’s Candy” (it takes the form of a woman whose kisses are like candy) also features his potent slide guitar. Best song: “Brand New Man,” a peppy blues. Worst song: the over-produced “Baby, Can You Hear Me?”