Jason James Live at The Table at Madeley!
December 8 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm$10.00 – $15.00
7:30pm – 9:00pm = Jason James
When Jason James walks onstage, he declares his love of classic country before he even sings a note. His choice of attire — embroidered suits or pearl-snap shirts and sharply creased slacks — offers a visual tribute to his musical heroes and the traditions they established. But it’s not his looks or style that provide the most convincing evidence of his kinship with other giants of the genre. It’s his sound: the pure, honest voice of a singer who rediscovered his soul when he reawakened his early love of well-crooned waltzes and hook-filled honky-tonkers.
On Seems Like Tears Ago, released worldwide Oct. 4, 2019 via his own Melodyville Records (Smith Music), James follows his self-titled 2015 debut with ten original odes that recall the work of his influences without resorting to mimicry. “Jason James may have a long way to go to forge a similar legacy to the greats of the Golden Era of country music,” noted Trigger in SavingCountryMusic.com, “but he doesn’t have to travel far at all to illustrate the same talent those legends did in putting sound behind the emotions of heartache and joy that the best of country music captures.” But even though AllMusic.com compared him to Sturgill Simpson and praised his first album’s “classy, decidedly retro feel,” James is hardly trying to live in the past. He’s building on the legacy left by those who helped create the genre, while perhaps reconnecting listeners with the vibe country had before it went pop (and beyond). And boy, does he nail it, with a well-modulated baritone that occasionally dips toward bass territory or glides into tenor range — it’s a voice born to be accompanied by a crying pedal steel or wailing fiddle. “I’m evolving into a true-blue country singer, in tune with the spirit of my idols but forging my own personal path,” James explains. He calls it an evolution because he didn’t always sing this way. When he started to record his previous album, for New West Records, he had more of a high-lonesome sound. By the time it was released, two producers and three years later, his voice had become a deeper croon. But it was also finally released when the label had re-staffed and re-located and in many ways orphaned the release. When asked to sound less traditional on his next effort, the writing was on the wall that he and the label would part ways. His last recording for them was a cover of Ernest Tubb’s “Let’s Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello”, which aired in a Shiner Beer Super Bowl commercial. For that, they let him be him. He wasn’t going to lose the pedal steel and add more electric guitar for his follow-up. He’d already been there, done that with a rock band. In fact, it was rock that got him to Austin — and to country.
James and a childhood friend had formed a band that played frequently in Houston. When they moved to Austin to start seeking gigs there, they made what James calls “the fatal decision” to room together. Meanwhile, he’d begun rebuilding his relationship with his father, who’d split from his mother years before. That rekindled his childhood obsession with Hank Williams. James wanted the band to do some Hank covers; it did not go over well. After a fight one night, James headed to an open mic try some Williams songs. “Here I am in long hair, probably resembling Gram Parsons more than anything, just playing Hank Williams stuff,” he recalls. “And they were leaving money in the tip jar, and I thought, ‘That’s more money than I make with the whole band.’ So I became really obsessed, possessed with writing [country songs]. It was an easy outlet for me — something fresh, and something I’d been searching for my whole life. “Country is just so sincere,” James continues. “You can’t lie to yourself and expect people to believe it. You’ve got to be honest. That’s what I always loved about country music. It wasn’t this facade of ‘We’re too cool for school.’”
The Seems Like Tears Ago sessions were the exact opposite experience of those for his previous album. Reconvening with his first producer, John Evans (Hayes Carll, Corb Lund), James tracked it in just three days at Signal Hill Recordings in Dripping Springs, outside of Austin, with Patrick Herzfeld engineering. Evans rounded up top talents for the sessions: Geoff Queen on electric and steel guitars; Reckless Kelly’s Cody Braun on fiddle; Rick Richards on drums; T Jarrod Bonta on piano; and Chris C Cook on rubboard (and no, neither uses a period). “It was fun to make this record,” James says. “It’s crazy seeing these guys come in and completely get it. I mean some of these songs were two takes. It was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s how you make a record.’” In fact, he says, “I went through a little bit of a postpartum because I was like, ‘That’s it?’ It was such an easy birth.” The writing came easily, too, particularly after James moved “back to the vortex” — of Texas City, on the Gulf Coast near Houston. Turns out there are fewer distractions in a town with a less active music scene. “They roll the carpets up here pretty early,” James says.
Any country songwriter worth his salt had better be able to navigate through heartbreak, and James spills enough lyrical tears in his songs. In addition to the title tune, he pours lovelorn pain into “I Miss You After All,” “Achin’ Takin’ Place,” “Cry on the Bayou,” “Foolish Heart” and “Ole Used To Be,” most of which are ballads. But “Cry on the Bayou” is a ZydeCajun waltz, and the happier “We’re Gonna Honky Tonk Tonight” is made for two-stepping. “I like to dance in between the light and the dark,” James notes. “I’d be a fool to just be dark and depressing all the time, pretending I’m some tortured artist. I’m just interested in life right now.” Oh, he battles his boogeymen, but tries to do it with humor. “I shine a light under the bed,” he says. “It’s there. It exists. But the survivor in me has to make a joke out of it.”
Another ballad, “Simply Divine,” is an actual love song (yes, happy songs are harder to write, but he’s got ’em). Then there’s “Move a Little Closer,” an ultimatum song (and the album’s first single) he describes as edgier than the others. A chicken-pickin’ honky-tonker, it traces a straight line from Texas City, TX., to Bakersfield, CA just like Buck Owens did. “I wasn’t reinventing the wheel on that song by any means, but I love that style with the train beat,” James says.
Unlike his last album, which included some reconfigured earlier work (along with a song he and Jim Lauderdale co-wrote), the Seems Like Tears Ago tracks were all country from the get-go. He’d accumulated so many, he just had to decide which to use. But he didn’t sweat that part much. “It’s kind of about the songs helping one another,” he says; he just chooses whatever fits together, as long as it feels organic. “I felt like these would be cool and I wanted to hear ‘em with a band,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I guess it was for my own amusement.” Not hardly. Ever since he was a kid peddling his comic strips door-to-door, he’s been driven to tell stories. Back then, writing was an escape. Now, it’s his lifeblood. He’s even glad he went through the label mill. When he contemplated giving up, his family helped him realize the goal was worth the pain. “It makes me want what I love more, and it makes me work harder to obtain it,” he observes. For a guy who’s posting album updates using the hashtag #makecountrysadagain, James says, “I’m just happy, and I’m happy with the album. It’s the record I wanted to make all along.”