Seth James’ Different Hat is old-school soul with a fun energy. Coming in at a weighty 14 tracks, the album flies by thanks to James’ clever arrangements and bluesy vocals.
The West Texas singer/guitarist has worked solo and with The Departed. Different Hat, featuring a solo James, has a solid mix of originals and covers, allowing James to explore different styles and show off his versatility while maintaining a consistent, modern rhythm and blues sound.
James is also willing to expand his musical circumference. He takes on Delbert McClinton’s “Solid Gold Plated Fool,” leaning into the country sound, keeping things piano-forward, and locking into a cool groove that’s supplemented with horns. James’ voice works well across the album, always honest and connected, but here he pays tribute to the soulful vocal delivery of McClinton’s original, tipping his hat while also sounding like himself.
James also takes on “He Don’t Love You (And He’ll Break Your Heart),” a Levon and the Hawks song written by Robbie Robertson. If the names Levon, as in Helm, and Robertson sound familiar, it’s because it was the Band before they were the Band. The track is pure 60s ear candy, which makes sense given when it was first released, and here again, James fleshes out the original, making it sound somehow more retro than the Levon and the Hawks version.
“Big Trouble,” written by James, is blues-oriented, with horns reinforcing the song’s hook, backup singers fleshing everything out. The groove is a hiccup and the entire track swings, every part of the tune intricately fitting together, like a sci-fi movie, where the monster explodes but then reassembles itself, to the chagrin of the hero. “Moonpies,” another James original, has Dr. John piano and a Muppet-esque sweetness. The lyrics are a funny tribute to a participant in the Santa Rosa Roundup Rodeo, which takes place in Vernon, Texas: “Iʼd make little rocks out of big rocks / Build a fence around New Orleans / Scuba dive for moonpies / Juggle knives on a trampoline / Just for a chance to get my hands on the Santa Rosa Roundup Queen.” There’s a childlike drama that perfectly mathces the sing-song chorus.
James doesn’t break new ground, so much as he tends the established land so well. He’s not about reinvention; he’s about capturing the best from every song—his own or someone else’s—onto tape for everyone to enjoy. Different Hat is bluesy soul that’s done well.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Solid Gold Plated Fool
– He Don’t Love You (And He’ll Break Your Heart)
– Big Trouble
The Big Hit
– Big Trouble
Buy the album: Amazon