The nice thing about reviewing records is that you really get a chance to listen to stuff that covers the full spectrum of rock and roll. While I may have a particular fondness for garage punk and power pop, I nevertheless enjoy stuff that’s more of a roots rock persuasion or hard rock and heavy metal. It all depends on my mood and whether it gets some part of my body moving in time to the music. A lot of what I get here at R&R central is great rock and roll and some is not so great but some stuff I get just throws me for a loop of indecision followed by gradual acceptance finalizing in absolute joy. Denise James‘ latest record “Promises” is just one such CD.
As a gifted Detroit-based songwriter for other musicians she has had great success but to listen to her own material is to take a trip back in time to a place where the young solo “girl” singer sang of unrequited love and heartbreak. Think Petula Clark, Lulu and Ronnie Spector for a sound check. As a matter of fact, if Phil Spector wasn’t currently in jail for murder I would say that Denise James would benefit greatly from the classic “wall of sound” treatment. Her music is definitely jangly but soft, heartfelt but optimistic but all of it is undercut with a definite “today” vibe. Just listen to “What Happened to the Love We Knew.” What sounds like a mid-sixties paen to love gone bad is suddenly infused with a deliciously sounding nasty guitar break that you know could not have come from anybody back then (well ok maybe Ike Turner but I digress).
The album pretty much follows that pattern. Sweet but not sacharine, sad but not despondent, “Promises” is one of those albums that you just think “man they don’t make them like this anymore” and that is as much a tribute to the excellent songcraft as it is some nostalgic take on how it was better “in the day.” Have a listen for yourself and give this CD a chance. It will probably stand out in your record collection as a bit of an aural oddity but then, some of the best music follows this pattern. A captivating CD from a lost time. Wonderful.