After reviewing the stunning new “CHICKABOOM!” album from rockabilly songstress Tami Neilson this past February, I knew that this was a genre I really wanted to explore again later in the year. Fusing the distinct sounds of country & western, vintage rock & roll, and soul-laced blues, rockabilly provides an upbeat and infectious sound, transporting the listener on a momentary escape to the music of yesteryear. Having featured the likes of David Myles, The Sadies, and Petunia & the Vipers over the years, we were left pondering over who to include next. But once Ginger St. James sprung to mind, an artist who previously appeared on our page last year for a music video duet with String Bone, the decision was a pretty easy one to make.
Residing in Binbrook, ON, a suburb of Hamilton, Ginger St. James is a very revered artist in the Steel City and surrounding area, having honed her musical craft for many years in perhaps every spit & sawdust music room across the GTA. Bestowed with accolades that include the 2015 ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’ at the Hamilton Music Awards and the 2014 Hamilton Spectator Reader’s Choice Diamond Award for ‘Best Local Musician,’ it is truly hard to believe that Ginger St. James is not a true household name beyond the Canadian border right now. And while her musical back catalog is not too extensive (we don’t have any physical copies of her music in the vast GDW music collection), there are some absolute gems that can be found tucked away in your favorite digital music platforms. Craving some of her rockabilly sounds, I very recently discovered her 2019 “Live At Knox Farms” album – and given my own tendency to gravitate toward authentic live music, this seemed the obvious place to start.
Recorded during a live appearance at Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, NY, Ginger St. James and The Grinders brought their highly energetic brand of music to fans in the Buffalo suburbs. Joined by friend and long-time music collaborator SnowHeel Slim (guitars), the Grinders on this particular evening were comprised of great ambassadors from the vibrant Hamilton music scene. Moving pedal steel cries come courtesy of Chris Altmann (The Vandas), while the thumping upright bass riffs are handled with ease by Gingers’ Pistolettes bandmate, Justine Fischer. And rounding out this five piece band is the legendary drummer Ray Farrugia, known across North America for his work with both Junkhouse and Lee Harvey Osmond.
With eight lively tracks cranked out over a short-but-sweet 30 minute duration, the quintet come out firing on all cylinders, performing both “Train Whistle” and “Pour Me,” from Ginger’s 2016 “One For the Money” album. And while the opener perfectly delivers that frenetically paced vintage rockabilly sound (such a great toe-tapper), with “Pour Me,” Ginger offers up some sultry country girl soul, backed by some slower instrumentation from her bandmates that adds plenty of swing and blues influences too. Those blue-inspired vibes progress into “Boom Boom Room,” a track that dates back to her 2011 “Spank, Sparkle & Growl” EP. “You can’t come from Hamilton without bringing a little dirt in your skirt,” Ginger announces, “Here’s a little tune I wrote way back in the day, this goes for the lovers.” Cue the rhythmic burlesque inspired beat; one that offers Ginger the opportunity to display her raunchier side. “Ooh you make me feel good from my head to my toes / You get me so hot, I gotta take off my clothes / Can’t take it anymore, I think I’m gonna explode / You make my panties drop, you hit the spot, I’m gonna go to my boom boom room.”
Naturally the Grinders are only too happy to share some popular cuts from their 2014 “Diesel & Peas” album, and are clearly hitting their groove with some outstanding instrumentation from the entire crew. Commencing with the pedal steel-laced rock & roll burner, “Beer Bottle Pockets,” they quickly shift to the country-soul sounds of “Salvation,” offering not only more of Altmann’s stunning pedal steel, but the chance for Ginger to really give her vocals a workout. And of course, those guitar riffs and the tight bass and percussion remain flawless. With barely a pause, the band kicks it up another gear as they progress into one of the strongest tracks across the album, “Please Mr. Driver.” Boasting some good old fashioned 12 bar blues that accompany Ginger’s raspy vocals, there is a noticeable intensity in her delivery that yields momentarily to an unreal guitar solo. SnowHeel Slim makes that electric guitar weep (and not gently), then cry, and then all out scream! Cue the well deserved applause from an appreciative room as the torch is passed back to the vocalist for that final verse and chorus.
If you are hoping for a little twang-heavy alt-country, you will not be disappointed when the band return to the “One For The Money” album to deliver “Somebody Shot Me.” Eerie pedal steel wails bounce off hi-hat taps and drum rolls from Farrugia, painting a stark, haunting scene about to unfold. “When someone screws you over, you feel like you have been literally shot, and that is how that song came about,” Ginger explained in a 2017 interview with The Record. “[It] could be over someone betraying you, could be you are in debt, could be you are depressed … could be anything. We all experience that as people, you know.” Subdued guitars allow Fischer’s low end bass notes to truly shine, the perfect accompaniment to Ginger’s old-school country vibes.
“Country Bumpkin” provides not only the finale for this live performance, but allows the band one last chance to jam with no reservations in front of a well engaged crowd. To paraphrase her official Bandcamp bio, Ginger St. James possesses a sultry and powerful voice, packing a lot of entertainment into her petite frame with a sassy and commanding stage presence. Incredibly up-tempo, all five musicians are on fire at this time, taking time for band member introductions to the room, before providing the audience this closing number to send them home. “Well I’m no city slicker / My skin’s been getting thicker / Sitting by my lonesome / Like I’m locked up in Folsom / Ramblin’ country bumpkin, with nothing to do / In the barnyard getting cross-eyed / With my guitar, just singing the blues,” Ginger recites, with a nod to pioneers Johnny Cash and the various women of country that broke the mold; making this a fitting conclusion to this wonderful live show.
Co-produced with James McKenty (Cuff The Duke, Royal Wood), “Live at Knox Farms” is currently available as a digital only release via Kitchener, ON label, Busted Flat Records. If this amazing live performance EVER makes it onto vinyl, I will be first in line to purchase my copy with my dollar bills ready and waiting…. Name your price – I don’t care – I would LOVE to have this as a part of my vinyl collection. In the meantime, learn more about this artist at www.gingerstjames.com