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Review: Big Jim Adam & John Stilwagen, Tippy’s Barn

Big Jim Adam & John Stilwagen
Tippy’s Barn
[Circle504 Records (2011)]

Colorado Springs, CO is known for a lot of things—majestic scenery, tourist attractions, military posts, and even a military academy. But one thing the city hasn’t been known for, at least until lately, is the blues, with the great John-Alex Mason, teenage guitar slinger Austin Young, and the rollicking blues duo of Big Jim Adam (guitar/banjo) and John Stilwagen (keys/accordion). What distinguishes this guitar stinging/romping keys duo from other aggregations of this size is their highly interactive nature—not a gregarious frontman accompanied by a stoic sidekick—as well as being very entertaining, bettering many of those bigger sized quartets, quintets and sextets. On Tippy’s Barn, jokes, crazy madman laughter, bantering back and forth, slide whistles, kazoos, chicken clucks, and cowbells all make for an enjoyable experience, not to mention Stilwagen’s uncanny ability to play off Adam’s insane comic demeanor.

Similarly, many of the songs are a raging hoot as well, like “Fishin’ Hole” with that elusive catfish Mr. Sneaky and “Chicken A La Blues” where poultry never has a fowl taste. The title song is the centerpiece of this ilk, a barreling tale of Tippy’s raucous barn parties that leads to his arrest, which is comically portrayed by all the cacophonic commotion and Stilwagen frantically flying up and down the 88s. (Check out David Nelson’s fantastic comic book art that illustrates the tale in the accompanying CD booklet.)

But it’s not all novelty and games. There’s a deep, serious side here as well. Though the songs are benevolently credited to both men, Adam contributes the lion’s share and is quite the poignant songwriter. Usually there’s a subtle wholesome message unveiled but it’s usually one that’s universally agreeable. It’s here on “Work Till The Sun Goes Down” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” where Adam shines the brightest with meaningful originals delivered in a blow-the-doors-off voice that feels southern-rooted. Toss in any soul/gospel vocalist you care to name and guaranteed Adam will hold his own comfortably.

Any way you look at it, it’s all good stuff, even if you hate catfish and chicken.

—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)

[Miss Steak: Corrected “jokes, crazy madman laughter, bantering back and forth, slide whistles, kazoos, chicken clucks, and cowbells” to be capitalized correctly and make sufficient use of the word “and.” -ed]

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