Head for the Hills

This lively CD features guitarist Markus James in a variety of settings that showcase his affinity for the blues of the North Mississippi Hill Country, as well as the music of Mali, West Africa, which has influenced five of his albums since he first visited 20 years ago. It may seem like a huge jump for this Washington, D.C.-area native—who began by playing in soft-rock bands before moving on to the blues—but his love for, and devotion to, both Mississippi and Mali musical traditions is very much in evidence here. Both forms have a pronounced hypnotic quality, the one-chord blues of North Mississippi especially. On the 16 tracks of Head for the Hills, James plays a lot of slide guitar, plus a collection of other instruments (e.g., slide dulcimer, three-string cigar-box guitar). Various drummers accompany him on half the songs, with Mississippi's Kinney Kimbrough's vibrant playing a boon to the electric version of the title track and the uptempo “Woke Me” (with James ripping it up on slide guitar). James' lyrics are as unique as his playing; “Candyland Refugee” evokes quite an image of the “Sugar Queen” who'd like to “try your cinnamon soul,” while the falling notes of “Gone Like Tomorrow” (powered by Marlon Green's spot-on drumming) echo the song's end-of-the-world theme. Get this one while you can!