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James Reams & the Barnstormers

One Foot in the Honky Tonk – 2011 (Mountain Redbird)

Reviewed by JP Tausig

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CDs by James Reams & the Barnstormers

James Reams and the Barnstormers take us back to the type of music you might find in a local honky tonk's jukebox with their newest CD.

I Can't Settle Down has sparkling mandolin breaks and a very clean and fun banjo riff. Many of the songs like Susquehanna Getaway feature great banjo work by Doug Nicolaisen who shows great skill and virtuosity.

There are slower songs like Bailing Againa story song reminiscent of 60's country and western tunes, speaking to and about a long-past father bailing hay with his son. Reams' style turns even this topic into a song you might dance to on a Saturday night.

Snake Eyes is an original Reams tune about bad luck and gambling, with clean instrumentals and surprising harmonies on the chorus. Though a dance tune, the clever lyrics pull you into the song to find out what's coming next.

With a voice like Del McCoury's, Reams has captured the feel of old honky-tonk jukebox music. I Can't Settle Down is a great example of what Reams and the Barnstormers can do.

Unsettling is the focus on banjo and mandolin breaks, with almost no time for guitar. The band also doesn't seem to have settled on a mandolin or fiddle player. Guest artists play either depending on the song. At times, this becomes confusing, sounding more like a jam session than a cohesive band with its own sound. Some songs, like Harlan Howard's Goin' Home suffer from so much mandolin pick-click it's hard to hear what notes are actually played.

Regardless of the minor shortcomings, this is a fun album. Fans of older honky-tonk tunes, bluegrass and acoustic music should give this a whirl.