The Hand You're Dealt
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2000, Volume 7, #9
Written by John Metzger
It's not necessary to be a blues aficionado in order to appreciate James Solberg's recent release The Hand You're Dealt. Despite his long-time association with the blues — most notably with departed guitar great Luther Allison — Solberg drew liberally from soul, gospel, and funk influences to turn his fourth solo effort into a broader roots-oriented album. There are still plenty of straight-ahead blues songs (Buzz Me, When's the Last Time, You Got Me Knockin'), but overall The Hand You're Dealt has as much in common with classic rock groups like The Band as it does with other diehard blues artists.
Indeed, Solberg is still haunted by the death of Allison. However, instead of plunging back into the drug- and alcohol-soaked haze he experienced in the early '80s, Solberg has chosen to utilize his grief as his muse. L.A. Blues, his 1997 release, was a bonafide tribute to his close friend. This time around, however, Solberg seems more reflective — as if Allison's death has caused him to revisit the path of his own life. Consequently, The Hand You're Dealt radiates raw emotion in such a way that the songs become simply irresistible.
"I've seen stars shine and watched them fade," Solberg sings on the title track. His words — an obvious ode to Allison — are made all the more poignant by the song's striking resemblance to Bob Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Solberg follows this with a gloriously jubilant rendition of the gospel-tinged I'm Goin' Home, on which he finds both solace and spiritual awakening through his music. Other highlights include a divine cover of Larry Addison's Members Only, the Chuck Berry-fueled rocker Build Me a Castle, and the heart-broken anguish of Ain't It Hard.
Throughout it all, Solberg's vocals and guitar convey rays of hope that brighten the steady stream of tears that seep from his sorrows. Further, the words of his own compositions like Ain't It Hard and the title track are filled with world-weary wisdom of a man who has survived the worst that life can throw at him. Consequently, The Hand You're Dealt transcends the blues genre, much like Solberg has risen above his own troubles. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box