James Blonde 2001 / IAC 2018
Accidental album from a famed American producer and songster to show him in a new light.
Mostly known today as a co-writer of quality AOR anthems for members of NIGHT RANGER and MR. BIG, in the early Noughties Eric Westphal was quite busy reforming his old band JAMES BLONDE and cutting text=’new versions’] of their ’80s tracks, which brought about a bout of fresh creativity that, in its turn, resulted in this record. Still, helmed by TESLA’s drummer Troy Luccketta and helped by such six-string luminaries as Marc Bonilla and Bobby Messano, “Alice Street Sessions” appeared to be far removed from what Westphal’s audience got used to – for better, not for worse. Perhaps, that’s why the album has stood the test of time.
Gripping from the start, the echo-laden, hypnotic “Harmony” sets up a romantic soundscape where spaced-out guitar lines meander between solemn piano chords, and Eric’s soft vocals, wrapped in orchestral waves, radiate eerie nostalgia before hinting at the ultimate optimism on the chorus whose pure pop is compromised with a country tincture. In a similar way, the simple folk balladry behind “Another Time, Another Place” doesn’t require rich arrangement and fares just fine in acoustic strum, while the likes of “Follow My Heart” fly on the strength of a a few riffs.
Yet even with all the stylistic variety Westphal is offering to his listeners, the scintillating, brass-splashed Philly soul of “Hold Me” will emerge utterly unexpected to highlight his voice’s mellifluousness that may seem too bittersweet in “Wake Up To Love” – a moving blend of opulent strings, flamenco-esque lace and hefty rock – but is very much spot-on in “So You’re In Love” and “Stop And Smell The Roses” which channel Stax warblers. So if “Night Light” would feel overtly emotional, there’s a lot of warmth in its glow, and the slow, heavy funk of “Footsteps” is only able to heat it up rather than blow nocturnal magic.
This reissue is expanded with the gracious epic “Parked In The Dapple Shade” that adds a layer of classic storytelling to an already almost perfect album, but obviously belongs to a different record – one Eric’s bound to deliver one day. With the record’s return, it must be inevitable.