Home Read Albums Of The Week: Early James | Strange Time To Be Alive

Albums Of The Week: Early James | Strange Time To Be Alive

The singular singer-songwriter with the ragged pipes serves up more scintillating sounds from someplace midway between the cabaret, the juke joint & the junkshop.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Strange Time To Be Alive — the second album from Alabama-bred singer, songwriter and guitarist Early James — was produced by Grammy-winning Black Keys singer-guitarist  Dan Auerbach and recorded at his Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville.

Strange Time To Be Alive is the sound of an artist sublimely out of step with the world. With all the charmed eccentricity of a true poet conjuring the ghosts of great southern gothic writers from Eudora Welty to William Faulkner, James takes in the endless absurdity he sees around him, then alchemizes his unease into a glorious patchwork of musical idioms: Forsaken blues and contemplative folk songs, brooding murder ballads and lovestruck piano tunes. James ultimately extracts a certain magic from the madness, imbuing even the most painful truth-telling with a wild-eyed joie de vivre.

A fitting counterpart to his unmistakable, chameleonic vocals, James’s lyrics contain equal parts poetic observation, candid introspection and fantastically warped humor, buoying songs that tread in the waters of darkly themed broken hearts, with the wry humor of the sad clown. James moves effortlessly from venting a litany of frustrations (including the dearth of original thought in online discourse and the showboating behavior of billionaire moguls on Racing To A Red Light), lamenting the insidious chaos of modern life (What A Strange Time To Be Alive) or examining the darker corners of his own psyche over blistering riffs and bombastic drumbeats (Harder To Blame).

“I think it’s OK to admit you feel crazy or uncomfortable in your own skin — those are very human feelings that we need to say out loud,” says James. “I hope this record reminds people that everyone feels crazy sometimes, and that the real crazy people are the ones who won’t admit self-doubt.”

The followup to 2020’s Singing For My Supper, Strange Time To Be Alive came to life in three whirlwind days at Easy Eye Sound. “James is very particular with his lyrics and makes such uncommon choices, so I wanted to keep it raw and let that shine as much as possible,” says Auerbach. “His writing is so idiosyncratic; there’s not one song that feels like anything you’ve heard before. But then there’s also something in his sound that feels carved out of stone, like it’s from another time — it’s a very strange mix.”

Recorded live with many of the same musicians featured on its predecessor, Strange Time To Be Alive embodies a much heavier and more mercurial sound than Singing For My Supper, thanks in part to James’s frenetic performance on electric guitar. “Last time I didn’t even bring an electric guitar, but this time I’ve got a pedalboard,” he notes. “Back when it was just me and Adrian everybody thought we were a bluegrass band for some reason, and I’ve always wanted to play louder.”

In shaping the album’s eclectic selection of songs, James also joined forces with such esteemed musicians as guitarist Tom Bukovac (Willie Nelson, Keb’ Mo’), drummer Jay Bellerose (Sharon Van Etten, Allen Toussaint), keyboardist Mike Rojas (Tyler Childers, Yola) as well as James’ longtime bandmate Adrian Marmolejo on upright bass, while Sierra Ferrell joins on the white-hot duet, Real Low Down Lonesome. The result is an album that is a prime showcase for James’ singular voice, an element that proves infinitely captivating whether he’s assuming a growling ferocity, a crooning tenderness or the dazzling theatricality of a cabaret singer.”