Below The Belt - James Leg (Alive Naturalsounds)
There’s a place where dirty blues, soul and gospel intersect that many aim for but few get near. That James Leg lands in the middle drop-zone with the precision of a BASE jumper on a million dollar bet says you most of what you need to know about his latest solo record.
James Leg - aka John Wesley Myers of the Black Diamond Heavies and The Immortal Lee County Killers - is the bona fide son of a preacher man from Port Arthur, Texas. Armed with a baritone that could knock down a brick wall from 20 paces and a Fender Rhodes, he’s unleashing his third solo album (the last with label mates Left Lane Cruiser in tow.) It’s in similar vein to what’s gone before, but this time with a touch more variety.
Leg draws on a diverse group of collaborators to mix it up, delving into jellyroll piano belters (“Drink It Away”), gospel rock (“Up Above My Head”, “What More”) and brutal blues stomping (The Dirtbombs’ “Can’t Stop Thinking About It”.) There are no power ballads here.
Cutting most of the basic tracks at Johnny Walker’s Kentucky Masonic Sounds studio with three different drummers and mixing with Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders in Detroit, “Below The Belt” hits like the sonic equivalent of a large shot of black label Beam.
Recording James Leg must be a textbook engineer’s nightmare. Most of the time he’s pushing the needle so far into the red that you’re thinking he’s going to do his voice and the studio equipment real damage. The raw energy is palpable and it’s a fair bet he can’t spell overdub.
Just when you think they have him tagged Leg isn’t afraid to step outside the boundaries of expectations. “The Forest” is a bouncing cover of that Cure song rendered with rolling keyboards and an earthy quality that poncy Robert Smith could only dream about. A muddy undercurrent sweeps the song along. “Casa De Fuego” welds some breezy piano to a vamping bass organ and bottom end swing with trumpet dancing on top.
It’s the aforementioned Dirtbombs cover and the thumping “Glass Jaw” that get the blood pumping fastest. Leg’s vocal growl and the insistent feel on the latter set the hellhounds racing and the devil take the hindmost. The almost radio-friendly “Disappearing” and positively sweet “What More” that close the album show the man’s music has light and depth.