Considering the rich artistry and wild stylistic diversity of his recordings over the past decade, it’s hard to believe that Bay Area bluesman James Byfield – aka Blind Lemon Pledge – preceded his musical emergence with years as a pioneer designer in computer graphics.
Over the years, like any musician who cares more about following his muse than strict genre definitions, he has played it all – blues, jazz, rock, folk, Cajun, country. On Blind Lemon Jazz, his first album under that name, he mostly takes a backseat to a wondrously swinging quartet of his choosing, composing, arranging and producing a set of songs that sparkle with originality even if you could swear you’d heard some before.
Showcasing the brilliant talents of blues/soul vocalist Marisa Malvino, pianist Ben Flint, bassist Peter Grenell and drummer Joe Kelner, Byfield – now in his new persona – a creates a spirited but intimate post-speakeasy after-hours club vibe reminiscent of, say, Harlem in the late 30’s and early 40’s. His blues inflected tunes – mostly ballads of varying tempos - tap into romance (“After Hours,” “How Can I Still Love You”), gospel (“You Can’t Get There From Here”), his deeper soul jazz influences (“Buddy Bolden’s Song”) and pure silly whimsy (“Ketchup Spaghetti”).
After an imaginatively rendered set by the quartet, Byfield emerges from behind the curtain on guitar and lead vocals on the subtle but deeply impassioned “Blue Heartbreak.”