Review: James Kinds- Love You From the Top
Unless you live in Iowa or are a Chicago blues enthusiast, chances are the name James Kinds will be an unfamiliar one. Since being proclaimed “the best new voice in Chicago” by Living Blues over three decades ago, Kinds’ career has suffered a series of misfortunes that have kept him out of the spotlight, although he has apparently made quite a name for himself in his adopted home of Iowa. As such Love You From the Top, his new album on Delmark Blues, is the first nationally distributed release in a career going back to 1962.
Love You From the Top wonderfully skirts the borders of blues, R&B, and rock without ever really stopping in any of those territories for more than a song or two. Its the sort of album you must listen to several times to really get the gist of it and it will continue to grow on you with each listen. The musicianship is excellent throughout with Anthony Dotson and Claude L. Thomas holding down the rhythm section and sax legend Eddie Shaw appearing on four tracks. Even Kinds himself plays a mean guitar, but the main attraction of the album is undoubtedly his voice.
Kinds possesses the sort of emotive voice that manages to sound forlorn and dejected on even the most upbeat of material and one gets the feeling that he has listened to his share of Wilson Pickett and Junior Wells records in his time. Yet his voice also contains rugged quality in the delivery of the smooth vocals and the experience and passion that can’t be found simply by emulating your heroes.
The songs themselves range from pure blues such as the resolute “Crack Headed Woman” and “Katie” to pure Southern soul tunes like “Take a Look at Yourself” and the despondent ballad “Johnny Mae” that gives one reason to believe that had Kinds tried his luck in Memphis rather than Chicago he may be a legitimate superstar today. There are also several songs here, most notably the vicious “I Got a Woman” and “Peggy Sue” that can only be classified as rock (and, in case you are wondering, they are not Ray Charles and Buddy Holly covers).
Still, Kinds songwriting is at its best when he is discussing his own life and there are at least two numbers here that are undoubtedly about his own experiences. The first, “Mason Dixon Line Blues” is a nearly-seven minute slow blues detailing his journey from Mississippi to Chicago and how he learned to play the blues. The second is the Jimmy Reed-inspired “Body Slam,” which in decades past would have been a hit.
This album and Kinds himself is best summed up by the track “I Didn’t Go Home.” After some nice guitar riffing, Kinds’ plaintive voice begins telling of how after a night of drinking he accidentally drove his “other woman’s” car home. On the surface, the situation seems funny, but once you’ve heard his delivery you can’t help but believe it and even feel sorry for him.
In my opinion, Delmark’s brilliant rediscovery of Mr. Kinds is some of the best news to hit the blues and R&B world in quite some time and I hope that they will also consider re-releasing his other albums, which were previously available only to Iowans. Kinds’ distinctive blend of Chicago blues, Southern soul, and a dash of early rock melds together perfectly to create the recipe for the best electric blues album of the year and, hopefully, the success he has long been denied.