JJ Thames,
Raw Sugar
(DChamp Records, 2016)

You're producing the second album of a wildly gifted blues singer, a woman whose talents far exceed blues belting but who identifies with the genre because she sees it as the base of all music. Your singer is at home in blues, soul, r&b, old school southern soul, jazz -- name it, she can do it.

Here's your problem: Do you choose to help her showcase one aspect of her talent or do you shoot the works, offering the listener a bit of this, a sample of that?

Grady Champion, who produced Raw Sugar and released it on his DChamp Records, decided on the shoot-the-works approach. Listening to Thames' unbelievable voice, with its raw power and a tone strong enough to raise the dead, and the stark ability to fit in with whatever arrangement she is given, it's easy to see why he made the choice he did. The record flows from genre to genre, beginning with a choir-backed gospel ballad that will cause atheists to give it up. And that's where my problem begins: The song in question, "Oh, Lord," is so good I want to hear more in that vein. Thames and Champion, though, give me instead an uptempo blues rocker, which, of course, makes me want to hear more like it.

These people are continually raising my expectations and then not meeting them, instead choosing to raise them in another direction. That way I get a better look at the full scope of her talent. When I complain about there not being enough of a category that has knocked me out, well, that's my problem, not Thames'; she's giving me everything she's got and that's plenty.

You see, JJ Thames is no kid. She's been around, and has been fighting her way into the full-time music industry for more than 20 years. Is it any wonder she wants an audience to hear all of what she does?

Raw Sugar shows us what she can do.

I want to hear more.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

27 August 2016

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