James Cohen Caravan
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James Cohen Caravan

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The best kept secret in music


"Ottawa X press picks High side in best of 03"

High Side Of Lowdown (Northern Blues Music)

James Cohen's excellent third record is a feast of fiery fret know-how. It's got explosive flamenco rhythms and high-spirited Django-style gypsy jazz - sweltering sounds for the cold winter months ahead. This guy is raw, playful and inventive at every turn, taking care to favour soul and enthusiasm over technical six string wizardry. The result is one of the most striking guitar collections of the year. (SB)
- Ottawa X-press

"6 moons .com"

Combining RoadHouse stomp and Boogie piano, rockabilly 'tude, Blues twang, Sinti Jazz shrum-shrum guitar and Flamenco motifs, James Cohen's third release and debut on this label otherwise dedicated to the Blues is a surprising twist in the Jesse Cook/Ottmar Liebert nouveau flamenco craze. Conceptually, it clones guitar maestros George Benson, Rafael Riqueni and Keith Richards into a new beast. Teaming up with steel-string Blues guitarist Tony D., thick-fingered Rocker Cohen headlines on a nylon string Jermey Goertzen-Hamm flamenco guitar. Devin Johnstone assists on percussion and Peruvian cajon, Stu Watkins anchors on bass and Janis Joplin's piano sideman Richard Bell adds keyboards, vibraphon and accordion. While Cohen, in the self-penned liner notes, engages in a bit of idolizing name dropping -- Paco de Lucia, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo, Raimundo Amador and Miguel de la Bastide -- embraced on its own and not Flamenco terms, this album of guitar-based BluesRock, overlaid with strong Manouche and Gitano forms, has much to recommend it: Gritty inventiveness, slighty raunchy vibe, infectious drive, feel-good tunes and the gorgeously fat tone of both James' and Tony's guitars.

This brings to mind Seattle-based formation Pearl Django who work in the shadows of their idols Reinhardt and modern-day masters Angelo Debarre, Jimmy Rosenberg and Romane. They have managed to successfully build out their own Parisian musette niche which doesn't rely on or invoke super-human virtuosity but rather, seduces with raw charm and easy-going playfulness.

The High Side of Lowdown is parallel reading, albeit without exact precedents. What is lacking in immaculate lightning-fast arpeggios and filigreed fretwork is balanced by jazzy riffs and saucy vibratos. Pata Negra is perhaps the closest predecessor but one that approached this Blues/Flamenco juncture from Spanish roots and inclusive of Cante. Lowdown gets there from the opposite pole of purely instrumental Rock, Swing and Blues. Rather than a Howlin' Wolf on a Conde Hermanos guitar, it conjures up a sawdust saloon atmosphere with a cheerful and responsive crowd that has heard of palmas and tangos but is more attuned to Hammond organ and square dancing. Impossible to compress into a preexisting category, Lowdown should enjoy popularity not just with commuters and guitar fans but also dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles. Besides being fun and original, it's well recorded. It highlights two guitars in all their close-up saturated glory, albeit transplanted in an unexpected milieu of hybrid styles never attempted quite like this before. A happy Cheers to whoever at NorthernBlues decided to pop this disc in the mail - it's a keeper!

- 6moons.com review

"Review of High Side"

High Side Of Lowdown
James Cohen | NorthernBlues Music

Lowdown Blues means the same thing in any language. The acoustic music of nineteenth century gypsies expresses the same message. So do soulful ballads from many distant lands. An operatic moan or a folk lament can accomplish the same goals that came to us through pioneers such as Robert Johnson or W.C. Handy. Django Reinhardt knew that. Astor Piazzolla knew that. Many others from the four corners of the world have come to realize that their music shares its meaning and its core with the blues.

Ottawa guitarist James Cohen and his acoustic band deliver sensual music that captures the blues spirit from different angles. “The Lemming” and “High Side of Lowdown” carry a genuine flamenco flavor. “Tiny Monkeys” and “Blue Gypsy” come with shades of Django with Stephane Grappelli. Throughout the session, Cohen’s band improvises with spontaneity and passion. That passion, after all, is what makes sets the blues apart from other forms of music. When an artist is convincing, he can tell the stories with meaning. Whether the band is made up of Peruvian Pan pipes, Tibetan dulcimers, Indian tablas, or Australian didgeridoos, each organization has the power to convey meaning in a natural and convincing manner.

The acoustic timbres of Cohen’s band create a pure and natural aura that's sure to convince even the most skeptical blues purist.

~ Jim Santella

- Amazon.com


Featured Artist: James Cohen

CD Title: High Side of Lowdown

Year: 2003

Record Label: NorthernBlues Music

Style: World Music

Musicians: James Cohen (nylon string guitar); Tony D. (steel string guitar); Richard Bell (piano, keyboards, vibes, accordion); Devin Johnstone (percussion); Stu Watkins (bass).

Review: In a departure from his normal fare, Fred Litwin and his NorthernBlues label offer the music of guitarist James Cohen.

The group is a happy mix of rock and blues musicians playing a wonderful new music. Cohen discovered the art of flamenco guitar in recent years. His group, the James Cohen Caravan was heard by Fred Litwin, at the Ottawa Bluesfest and plans were put in place for an album.

It's difficult to imagine what might result when one assembles a frontline of a flamenco guitarist, a veteran bluesman and a great rock keyboard player. The end-product is a delight. Call it what you will, but you can't place it in a pigeonhole. It just won't be categorized! There are elements of blues, classic jazz, and gypsy jazz hiding behind the flamenco rhythms. Tracks such as Tiny Monkeys and Mock Pollack are pure jazz. Fortune's Fool could be considered a "flamenco blues" if there was such a thing. Richard Bell's keyboard spot on the tune is a throwback to his brilliant solo on Janis Joplin's Me and Bobby McGee . Bell was with the band of Ronnie Hawkins and Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie .

This new CD is certainly worth a listen if you enjoy fine guitarists.

Tracks: Pun Tango; Santa Anna; Blue Gypsy; Mock Pollock; Elsie; The Lemming; La Tormenta; High Side Of Lowdown; Tiny Monkeys; Fortune's Fool; Without You.

Record Label Website: http://www.northernblues.com

Artist's Website: http://www.james-cohen.com

Reviewed by: Richard Bourcier

- Richard Bourcier


1. La Tormenta with Guests Sue Foley and Tony D.
2. Heart Of Velcro
3. High Side of Low Down, which enjoys a great deal of international radio play and is on Northernblues Records


Feeling a bit camera shy


James Cohen, originally a rock guitarist for over twenty-five years, has worked with such greats as Mick Ronson and has written and arranged for several bands, winning major Canadian contests as a pop-rock songwriter. His newest CD released on Northern Blues records April 2003 was produced by Richard Bell of Janis Joplin and The Band fame. In 1999 James's guitar playing—as part of the group "Del Norte"—appeared on a compilation CD called "Puro Flamenco" which also featured Ottmar Liebert. This CD is available in all U.S. record stores on the Neurodisc label, as well as the 2002 release on Borealis records 6 Strings North Of the Border' featuring James Cohen's Flamenco piece, The Wind. Once he was exposed to the outstanding guitar playing of flamenco prodigies Paco De Lucia, Tomatito, and Miguel de la Bastide, there was no turning back for James. He worked day and night learning the complex and subtle rhythms of flamenco, and studied the lightning right-hand techniques of the Spanish gypsies. La Tormenta represents James's love of the more modern Flamenco without sacrificing the integrity and purity of a long and beautiful tradition.

VKO MundoBeat™
James's profound dedication to learning to play flamenco inspired him to invent the VKO MundoBeat™, the world's only Flamenco and worldbeat metronome which is now being used by such world-renowned musicians as Ottmar Liebert, Tomatito, Jesse Cook, Badi Assad Menageria, Miguel de la Bastide, and many more. The Web site www.vko.com has a complete list of endorsements and information.

James Cohen has made special guest appearances throughout Ontario and Quebec with both Tony D. and Sue Foley. He has been featured on both their most recent televised CD release tours in 1999 and 2000. The James Cohen Caravan was also the first Canadian band to play at the US Portsmouth Blues Festival N.H. and enjoyed a great set at The Montreal Jazz Festival 2003. Also, The CD High Side of Low Down was a finalist in the 2003 American Independant Music Awards in the World Section.