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Son of James

Son of James Flips the Script on Chynatruckerfunk

Blending classical Chinese sounds with a raucous helping of blues rock, the 10-piece band pays tribute to Vancouver’s Chinatown. 

by Ben Boddez

Some of the most exciting and innovative music in recent years has been a product of artists taking tried-and-true genre and songwriting frameworks and infusing them with specific cultural contexts near to their hearts. After having grown up listening to both classical Chinese music and Jimi Hendrix, frontman Shon Wong of Vancouver blues rock band Son of James is an ideal figure to continue this trend. With Chynatruckerfunk, an ode to his beloved Chinatown neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver, Wong’s music parallels the neighbourhood itself in being, as he says, “rough around the edges, full of attitude, a little dangerous, but full of heart.”

Son of James’ live act brings a band that’s 10 strong, and the complexity and chaos of the recordings makes the size of the endeavour clear – whether it’s a sax solo, gospel organ section, or a backing vocalist that comes from the world of 90s R&B popping into the mix. Most critically, the band features Michelle Kwan on the guzheng, a traditional Chinese string instrument that often lends itself to classical recordings as accompaniment. In Son of James’ fusion of rock, blues, and jazz, however, the instrument’s typical purpose is flipped upside down – we often get to hear it shredding in place of a typical guitar solo.

Wong’s vocals are gritty and aggressive, but he slows it down and gets a little soulful when he needs to as he tells a story of love, heartbreak, feeling caught between two worlds and ultimately finding himself. As the album closes with “Wake Up,” a song concerning anti-Asian hate and the many problems facing the neighbourhood nestled right beside Vancouver’s notorious downtown east side, it becomes clear that Shon Wong might be the only person who could truthfully tell the stories scattered throughout this EP – that’s why it feels so unique.