Singer/songwriter and multi-format innovator Casey James is set to release Strip It Down, a rich collection of blues and smoky soul that is a deeply personal reflection of the former “American Idol” finalist and Texas-born roots rocker, on June 9.
“All I want to do is play music,” James said. “Stripping it back to just me making a record of music that I love was a huge stepping stone in my life.”
James will celebrate the release with a performance Friday, June 9 at City Winery in Nashville. During the event, City Winery will be selling custom bottles of wine with a portion of the proceeds going to the HART Fund, which is part of the Blues Foundation’s philanthropic initiatives.
Last night, “Bulletproof,” a raucous bit of Texas roadhouse swagger featuring a raspy Delbert McClinton, premiered during the Blues Report, the new music show on Sirius XM Radio.
James is familiar to many as a finalist on season 9 of “American Idol,” and familiar to still more as a country artist who notched a Top 15 single with “Crying On A Suitcase.” But in Strip It Down, James comes into his own by following a simple plan: being himself.
It’s titled Strip It Down because that is exactly what he did. James collected 14 songs he’d written or co-written, holed up in a Nashville studio with a trim, crackerjack band and hammered out the bulk of the album in four days. He shed the layers of stylized bulk he’d been given in those previous public ventures to find the real artist underneath, a guy with a convincing, smoky vocal quality and a burning, lyrical skill with a guitar.
It’s the music he loves. Between his shrewd playing and exuberant singing, the influence of Tab Benoit, Doyle Bramhall II, and Freddie King are highly apparent in Strip It Down, which folds in a variety of styles, all connected directly to that blues base. The project opens with James coursing through the dramatic blues/rock of “All I Need.” From there, James easily traverses the spacious old-school R&B of “Different Kind Of Love,” the soulful “Supernatural,” the breezy, country swing of “Stupid Crazy,” and the gutbucket closer “Fight You For The Blues.”
He delivers it all with a commanding presence, a rebuilt confidence that comes from doing what he does naturally, and doing it well. “This record was a healing thing for me,” James says, “because this is who I am. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
James found a gifted collaborator in Tom Hambridge, a drummer, songwriter and producer whose work he’d long admired. Hambridge had a hand in albums by Buddy Guy, Foghat, Keb’ Mo’ and Susan Tedeschi, and his grounding in the blues and roots music was spot on for where James wanted to go as an artist.
In their first co-writing session, James and Hambridge penned the bristling acknowledgement of sufficiency, “All I Need,” which eventually became the opening track. Two weeks later, they reconvened and authored “Killin’ Myself,” a snarling rocker that loosely encapsulates the roughest emotions from James’ experience with the music business. Writing lead to Hambridge developing a strong vision for the project. He enlisted guitarists Pat Buchanan and Rob McNelley to back James up on guitar, bass player Tommy McDonald, and keyboard player Kevin McKendree. They captured Strip It All Down mostly live in the studio, James singing and playing with the band and nailing most of the songs in three takes or less.
James funded it all through a one-month Kickstarter campaign, asking his fans to invest in the next step on his musical journey. They came through in a big way, delivering more than double his original goal. It served as a reminder that even when his path had taken him down difficult roads, he’d made a strong connection with an audience that understood his creative ambitions.
Strip It Down sounds distinctly different from the work he did in his previous recording deal. And it’s much more forceful than the artist America first saw on Idol. Although those stages were important steps in James defining himself – recognizing the music that brought him joy and accepting the talents that make him able to deliver it.
“I always thought of myself as a guitar player that can sing, but I realize now that that’s not the case – I feel as confident and comfortable with my vocals these days as I do with my playing,” he says. “My perception of who I am has changed.”
Upcoming Tour Dates:
June 9 – Nashville, TN – City Winery; Official Album Release Party
June 16 – Eldon, MO – Shawnee Bluff Winery & Vineyards
June 17 – Bluffton, IN – Kehoe Park
June 29 – Batesville, IN – Bacon Blues and Brew Music and Arts Festival
Aug. 26 – Le Roy, NY – Jam at the Ridge
Sept. 9 – Castlewood, VA – Russell County Fair and Horse Show
For more information and a complete list of tour dates, visit www.caseyjamesofficial.com.