Element of Surprise
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15+ original songs of love and social concerns ranging from seasoned reflections on the human condition to the freshest of James’ observations on the current political landscape. Some whimsical, others poignant, all skillfully crafted with his unmatched affection for words and melody, and delivered with a light and hopeful heart and a twinkling eye. The songs are nimbly supported by such gifted musicians as Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Sebastian and folk favorite Reggie Harris (on Not Another Gun), drummer/percussionists Greg Ellis and Debra Dobkin, Beach Boys guitarist/vocalist Scott Totten, veteran bassists and longtime friends Simeon Pillich and David Jackson (who also doubles on accordion for the title cut, Surprisium), jazz vocalist Melba Joyce (on I Am A Seed of Peace), world-class oudist John Bilezikjian (on This Change Is Everything), Jamaican drummer/vocalist Maroghini (on Have A Friend), L.A. lap steel virtuoso Greg Leisz (on Make Believe), keyboard magician Bob Malone (piano on Happen This Way, What If…?, & Come To Me, and accordion on La Chanson de Massage), Argentinean classical guitarist Claudio Ragazzi (on Snow) and new age keyboardist Laurie Z (on La Chanson de Massage & Come To Me). And More!
1 Happen This Way
(Words written in Chicago 11/84, Music, Cato NY 9/85)
Out of the blue, when least expected, love appears once again and I’m reminded of the effectiveness of what might be called “active passivity,” or as was once so memorably expressed, to “let it be.” And from out of the personal, the universal.
2 What If…? (It’s A Jumble Out There)
(Written in Kobe, Japan 3/94)
I’ve a knack for departing locales about to experience violent upheaval (Cyprus, Beirut, Vietnam, Berlin, Romania, Russia, Kobe and most recently, Gujarat, India). Change being inevitable, why not imagine the most hopeful, if fanciful, scenario?
3 Burma Saved
(Written in Guatemala City 10/00)
While living in Kobe, Japan, in the early ’90s I became acquainted with friends who are actively aiding the Burmese refugees in the camps along the Thai border, and working in support of the democratic movement led by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi. In Japan I marched carrying a placard a few times, and returned my credit card with a letter to Union Oil to protest their doing business with the repressive regime, but ultimately felt I could make a deeper impact with a song. (Visit www.brelief.net for additional information about Burmese Relief.)
4 The Entomology of American Participatory Democracy (The Lessor Of Two Weevils) (Written in Guatemala City 10/00)
You’ll note this was composed prior to the 2000 presidential elections, and actually based on a cartoon I’d created several election cycles previous. But this time I was really disturbed by the lack of clear choice, as later characterized in Jim Hightower’s incisive book titled If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates.
5 Pre-Minstrel Syndrome
(Written in Guatemala City 10/00)
Even the most fastidiously punctual among us can be unavoidably delayed on occasion.
6 Wish I Were Here
(Written in Copenhagen 12/71)
A return to a song previously recorded, this time visited with a smoky, Raymond Chandler-esque ’40s interpretation. How often have thoughts of distant love separated me from the present!
7 This Change Is Everything
(Begun in 1998 & completed in Guatemala City 10/00)
Written for the character Leon Chameleon, the renowned change agent featured in my eco-musical, Hue Manatee’s Quest. In 7/8 time.
(Written in München, Germany 2/70)
Awoke, wrote it down. The song as I heard it in my head lay dormant until awakened by Claudio Ragazzi’s inspired guitar.
9 Make Believe
(Written in Woodstock NY 10/72)
A young writer’s exercise in character creation, the song’s protagonist no longer seems all that remote.
10 Surprisium: Element Of Surprise
(Written in Los Angeles 1/01)
I’ve built my career on having been able to exceed an audience’s expectations by remaining “internationally unknown,” unencumbered by fame and fortune.
11 Have A Friend (A Swiftian Proposal)
(Written in Copenhagen 1/72)
Inspired by guppies, who decrease their surplus population by cannibalism, & Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land. Not to mention Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.
12 La Chanson de Massage
(Written in Northbrook IL 4/78)
Homage to the countless dedicated body workers I’ve been privileged to know, particularly those who’ve given me comfort along the way. As far as I know this is the world’s only massage song in captivity. At least I’ve not heard another one in the years since I wrote it.
13 Not Another Gun
(Fisher/Durst) (Written in New York 8/00)
Impelled by innumerable news accounts of tragically preventable gun deaths. John Fisher did most of the heavy lifting here.
14 I Am A Seed Of Peace
(Durst/Naguib) (Written at Seeds of Peace Camp, Casco ME, 6/97)
When invited to be the ‘minstrel-in-residence’ at Seeds of Peace International Camp for Conflict Resolution in the summer of 1997 following a fundraiser I played with Pete Seeger, Tom Chapin & others in NYC, I wanted to express a sense of personal responsibility for peacemaking in a simple melody that could be easily learned and sung by the campers. (And, with staggered entrances á la ‘Row, Row Your Boat’, harmony and polyphony occur effortlessly in what I call a ‘loose canon’). Egyptian junior counselor Amgad Naguib approached me with a poem he’d written and his words became the verses. Together, our words and my music became the Camp anthem, heard recently on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes.
15 Come To Me
(Written in Los Angeles 1/71)
My first job out of high school was at Disneyland & after completing my shift as an Adventureland ride operator, I’d head over to Frontierland’s Pepsi-Cola Playhouse and spend hours listening to my friends, the Gertrude Ward Gospel Singers (Clara’s mama). It was the indelible memory of their infectious harmonies & rhythms I had in mind when recording this song.
“I’ve enjoyed (it) immensely! I love your voice and songs. You’ve also done an admirable job producing yourself – a rare thing in the world of self-produced recordings.”
–Paul Mills, producer, Stan Rogers, Tanglefoot, many more
“Intensity and immediacy with consummate skill. Finely tuned, emotionally clear and politically astute, James Durst is someone you should hear.”
– -Mark Gresser, Music Matters Review (www.mmreview.com)
“James Durst is a prolific singer/songwriter that leans more towards folk, and is unique from many of his peers by mixing various stylings into his music as well as taking more instrumentation chances. With lyrics running the gamut of heart-tugging to humorous and everything in between sung with an emotive but well controlled vocal timbre, James proves to be a serious and enjoyable talent.”
“As a fan of James Durst over many years and many records, I think that Element of Surprise is his best work yet. The songs are clever, varied and well-performed. There is a lot of variety, from message songs (I Am a Seed of Peace) to whimsical wordplay (the title song, with its graphic connection to the excellent cover art). In addition to solid vocal and guitar work, James’ tasteful use of backing musicians is effective throughout. It is also interesting to note the copyright dates on the songs. They are written over a thirty year period, but all presented in a fresh contemporary style. Lyrics and recording information are included, and the CD package is environmentally conscious.”
– -John Stiernberg, business consultant/musician
“Songwriting is extraordinary. A wonderful mix of satire and humanitarianism–love it!”
– -Eddie O’Strange, Town & Country Radio, New Zealand