Roadhouse Album Review: Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps offer a magical Beatles tour on “With A Little Help From Her Friends”

Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps — “With A Little Help From Her Friends” — Blue Heart Records (Jan. 20 release)

Did you ever wonder what the Beatles would sound like if they were born and raised in Houston (Texas, of course)? And had a honey-voiced, soulful female lead singer?

Neither did I.

However, this latest album from Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps should finally answer that unasked question.

James, along with husband, producer and bassist, Terry Wilson, has put together a sweet and sassy album of 10 Beatles songs covered with her uniquely flavored vocals and the Tramps’ usual crisp backing.

Joining the band for this effort are keyboardist Kevin McKendree and drummer Richard Millsap, with backing vocals by Lucy Wilson and Nicki Bluhm, and special guest Yates McKendree, son of Kevin.

It’s an impressive lineup for an impressive outing tackling the works of the Fab Four. The results are just as impressive.

Everything kicks off on one of my favorite tracks, “Ticket to Ride,” with James’ vocals punching out a soulful rocking vibe, closing the final few bars by soaring over McKendree’s rollicking piano. Then comes “Taxman,” an unlikely but gorgeous pairing of James’ honeyed tones with a cloud of psychedelic herbal essence floating in the air. You can almost see the light show.

“Don’t Let Me Down” is next, as James turns it into a soul-drenched anthem rich with her pleading vocals. “Happy Just to Dance with You” adds a touch of funkiness to deliver it from pure Beatlemania into a guitar-laced bit of soul.

“Oh Darlin'” (another favorite cut) turns into a searing duet with Yates McKendree’s sharp guitar fueling a lusty vocal burn as James’ voice simply scorches the air. “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” originally an acoustic track, stirs in a taste of Motown, putting James in front of soulful backup vocals.

The band turns playful with the joyful “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey,” again adding tough, rhythmic backing. “You Won’t See Me” gives James a smooth vocal turn. “No Reply” adds a little Latin twist, again adding backup vocals for an extra dimension. A brightly swinging “Think For Yourself” wraps it up with the Tramps giving George Harrison’s tune a shuffling, thoughtful musical reappraisal.

“This was so much fun and such a labor of love,” says James. “I have been a Beatles fan since I was a little girl and having known all these songs inside and out for so many years, it was a real challenge to try and capture a bluesier, more Southern vibe but still retain the original spirit of the songs. And because we were doing it basically just for fun, I felt like I could stretch out just a little bit more and be a little looser with it.”

And it all works. This is a thoroughly enjoyable album, whether you’re a Beatles fan or a Teresa James fan. Or both. And I’m a big fan of the sassy, sultry voice of Teresa James. James and the Tramps plus friends don’t just cover these songs; they reimagine them in their own style and shape them into a delightful album that makes the music fresh — it’s just like a magical mystery tour.

Here’s the “Taxman”:

Tracklist:

Ticket to Ride
Taxman
Don’t Let Me Down
Happy Just to Dance With You
Oh Darlin’
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
You Won’t See Me
No Reply
Think for Yourself

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