Nathan James & the Rhythm Scratchers – What You Make of It
Nathan James likes to call his genre of music “Washtar Soul.” In 2010, he created an instrument called the Washtar Gitboard that connected a carved guitar neck to a travel size washboard. He’s also wired and outfitted the gadget with LED lights from an auto parts store and plays a 3-string instrument (Tri-tar) built from a washboard and an axe handle.
More than just a novelty, James says he’s created both a new look and sound to produce his mostly original material that integrates elements from downhome jukes, the streets, vaudeville, and Chicago clubs. It’s an entertaining mix that ranges from acoustic blues of the ‘30s to R&B of the ‘60s. Perhaps they could’ve included even more hokum or jive.
On What You Make of It, the trio focuses primarily on blues, offering solid originals, stunning guitar work, dramatic vocals and expressive harmonica. The only fully acoustic offering on this album, “Pretty Baby Don’t Be Late” provides a nice contrast. Hopefully most listeners won’t be taken aback by the kazoo solos in this number and the cover from Blind Boy Fuller (“Black Snakin’ Jiver”), the most influential and popular Piedmont-blues player of all time.
Nathan James grew up in a rural area outside of San Diego, and he gigged regularly as a teen. After high school, he was ready to pursue his dream of being a professional musician. At age 19, he began touring and recording with James Harman, whose vocals and harmonica are featured on one track.
Because I live near the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Or., I was quite curious about one song on this album, “Rhino Horn,” written by Harman when the touring band visited that outdoor zoo and were inspired by the rhinos. The song’s genesis establishes a funky groove before evolving into quite a story and tribute to the aphrodisiac. James also does a nice job with the cover from Bobby Patterson (“I’m a Slave to You”). After touring and recording with Harman for over three years, Nathan James set out on a solo career.
James’ current band includes Troy Sandow (bass, harmonica, backup vocals) and Marty Dodson (drums, backup vocals). With unbridled energy, all three musicians have the diversity and talent to get the groove going with different shades and colorings in their music. Guests include saxophonists Jonny Viau and Archie Thompson on two cuts.
A contemporary synthesizer of multiple styles, Nathan James deserves a wider audience. This group’s varied debut on the Delta Groove label is sure to find them plenty of listeners beyond the streets, juke joints and house parties. (Joe Ross, CD Insight)