Casey James with Nora Collins

Casey James with Nora Collins

The Fire Pit's Side Bar (Potawatomi Hotel & Casino)

Price: FREE

Friday, April 26 & Saturday, April 27 at 9:30pm

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“Every sunrise on another day is another chance to smile.”

It’s not often that the blues gets summarized with a happy platitude, but when Casey James inserted that phrase into “Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars,” it was a hard-won truth. James is familiar to many as a finalist on season 9 of American Idol, and familiar to still more as a country artist who notched a Top 15 single with “Crying On A Suitcase.”

But in James’ latest release, Strip It Down, he comes into his own by following a simple plan: being himself. James collected 14 songs he’d written or co-written, holed up in a Nashville studio with a trim, crackerjack band and hammered out the bulk of the album in a scant four days.

“All I want to do is play music,” James says. “Stripping it back to just me making a record of music that I love was a huge stepping stone in my life.”

The music he loves is the blues. Between his shrewd playing and exuberant singing, the influence of Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II and ZZ Top are highly apparent.

James delivers it all with a commanding presence, a confidence that comes from doing what he does naturally, and doing it well.

“If you were to give me two options—one, to have a shot at being famous, but it might mean I never play music again, or the other, to play every single night at bars, I would immediately choose option B,” he says. “Because I want to play music.”