Julian James And The Moonshine State
Live At The Star
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © July 2022
Having done reviews of albums from countless countries, with this being the first from the land down under, we now welcome Australia to the worldwide Mary4Music family.
Live At The Star is the fourth release for Melbourne, Australia based Julian James And The Moonshine State. The album was recorded live at the Star Hotel in Yackandandah, AU, and as Julian says – “it features some favorite old timey songs, furious fiddle, porch side finger picking and foot stomping grooves”. The disc’s ten tracks include three originals and seven covers that pay homage to some blues legends, and modern influences as well. Along with Julian James on vocals and guitar, the rest of the Moonshine State are: Pete Denahy on fiddle; Aron Mclean on bass; and “Rolie” Dwyer on drums.
As the saying goes, ‘first impressions are everything’ and all it took was the first few notes of the disc’s very first track to impress me. Kicking things off with a fabulous rendition of a Muddy Waters number titled “Can’t Be Satisfied”, there was absolutely no doubt about the band having their self-proclaimed “moonshine-drinking, finger picking country, with the southern swamp wail of a back porch fiddle” down pat. With Aron and Rolie laying down a deep bass sound reminiscent of a jug band behind them, the formidable one-two punch of Julian and Pete on the guitar and fiddle is nothing short of masterful. Great way to kick things off.
Did you know that Jimmy Reed played a fiddle? Of course you didn’t – because he didn’t play one. That said, on this most creative interpretation of his (Baby What You Want Me To Do) “Let It Roll”, Pete – who others might think would be having the unenviable task of filling in the songs well-known harmonica leads with a fiddle – absolutely nails it…WOW! Speaking of nailing it, Julian’s all over the song’s tricky lyrics as well. At songs end, from the crowd’s applause, it’s apparent they agree with me. Well done, guys!
How do you do a Howlin’ Wolf cover and actually make it your own? Just give this version of (Sittin’) “On Top Of the World” a listen and Julian James And the Moonshine State will show you. By far, I believe this will be the most up-tempo interpretation of this song I think you’ll ever hear….but hold that thought – the same holds true for “St. James” (Infirmary) (Traditional). This is the first version I’ve ever heard of this song that would be a dance floor filler – and I’m not talking slow dancing. As the track was moving along, I found myself wondering if Pete would use his fiddle to fill in for the songs famous sax leads, but as it turned out, Julian did that – with mouth sounds. Mouth sounds so realistic I wanted to go back to the instrumentation credits and add that behind his name.
One of Julian’s originals, “Silver Spade” is the disc’s most traditional blues track. With sullen lyric’s like “Dig myself a shallow grave…..hand me down that silver spade…..” being melancholically sung, the presentation is similar to that associated with a chain gang’s call and response song.
Unlike all of the other tracks, “Broken Man” – another of Julian’s originals, is a soft and slow ballad. As a matter of fact, as I attempt to tell you about Pete’s musical performance, instead of using terms like “smokin’ fiddle”, I find myself needing to describe it as “beautifully finessed violin playing”. The same feeling holds true of Julian’s sensitive vocal description of being a lost and broken man.
So, now that you already know who the three legends were that I referred to earlier in this review, let me now tell you who the modern influence is – it’s The Steve Miller Band. Like they do with everything else, Julian and the guys added some heat to their version of “Abracadabra”, the disc’s closing track. As we all know, when you close out a live show, you do it with a smoker. That said, if you’re old enough to remember records and turntables with 33-1/3, 45 and 78 speeds, this version of the song is like the band playing a 45 on the 78 speed but actually making it sound very good. As the track comes to an end, while Julian introduces the band, raucous applause from the audience is given for each of them. This had to indeed be one heck of a show.
Other tracks on this very fun and very well-done release include: “Blue Balls Blues”, Julian’s third original; “Louisiana Blues” (Muddy Waters); and “Swing Low” (Sweet Chariot’) (Traditional).
To find out more about Julian James just go to his website – www.julianjames.com.au. As usual, when you do so, please tell him the Blewzzman sent you. Thanks!
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
The Blues Is My Passion And Therapy
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award Recipient