Audio Mixer: Jim Diamond .
Recording information: Ghetto Recorders; Masonic Sounds, The Lodge, Dayton, Kentucky.
With its opening blast of thick, distorted piano banging out a dirty rock & roll stomp while the singer wails like Tom Waits on cheap trucker's speed, James Leg's second solo album (third if you count his collaboration with Left Lane Cruiser, Painkillers), 2015's Below the Belt, begins just the way you'd expect if you've spent much time with the keyboard man's band the Black Diamond Heavies. However, while the opening track suggests this will be a lot of "same old, same old," Below the Belt turns out to have a good bit more stylistic variety than Leg has shown in the past, not to mention a welcome sense of dynamics. The Continental dance moves of "Casa de Fuego" (with lyrics that reference the movie Casablanca), the woeful barroom boogie "Drink It Away," the spooky late-night vibes of "A Forest," the joyous gospel piano of "Up Above My Head," and the loping R&B groove of "What More" give Leg a chance to turn down the amps and ease back on the tempos, and it turns out that Leg has a lighter touch than he's been letting on, not to mention a more eclectic melodic imagination. The man also known as John Wesley Myers clearly likes things to sound dirty (and with a voice as rough as his, he has only so much choice in the matter), but on Below the Belt, he can do more than just howl the dirty blues as if he's been possessed by the ghosts of Savoy Brown, and it makes the album a more interesting and engaging experience. And if you're looking for some butt-kicking blues-shot rock, don't worry, Leg hasn't forgotten how to do that, and "Glass Jaw" and his cover of the Dirtbombs' "Can't Stop Thinkin' About It" deliver the goods. Below the Belt delivers some genuine surprises and proves Leg knows more than one way to strut his stuff, a talent he'd be well advised to keep exploring. ~ Mark Deming
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- Painkillers [Digipak] (Left Lane Cruiser)