Like The Wind: Songs of a Wondering Minstrel
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Like The Wind: Songs of a Wondering Minstrel could be termed a ‘sonic memoir’ for its 12 songs reflective of James’ 35-year songwriting and performing career. The project may be accurately perceived as his most autobiographical work to date. With performances captured in 7 studios from coast to coast, from such distinguished musicians as Marvin Dykhuis (‘Tish Hinojosa’), Herb Pedersen (‘The Dillards’), Don Stiernberg, Greg Cahill, John Parrott, TC Furlong, Simeon Pillich (‘Al Jarreau’), Jim Cox (‘Marion McPartland’), Gary Johnson (‘Word Of Mouth’), Stephanie Bennett, David Hamburger, Anke Summerhill, Ken Perlman, Ron Sowell & Julie Adams (Mountain Stage), James’ generous use of blues, country and bluegrass flavors marks a notable departure from previous recordings.
The set opens with Song From Slovenia, the rhythmic account of a harrowing 1972 auto trip “winding out of Maribor on the road to Ljubljana,” scribbled on a legal pad between the two Balkan cities as a palliative to the white-knuckle bone-jarring experience. It’s followed by Filled Up To Here Greys And Blues, which was written soon thereafter on the edge of the bed of his opulent turn-of the-century Istanbul hotel, while stricken with an acute case of culture shock. Country-colored Amarillo, composed in 1988, recalls the first stop on his very first performing tour away from his 1965 California home base, and the inevitable awakening that ensued. A baker’s dozen years later, To Jesus takes the form of a letter composed during the last leg home after a long tour, having just been informed over the phone that his presumed girlfriend would be unable to greet him upon arrival, as she had a date that evening. Writing the song in itself actually proved therapeutic. Love Needs Proximity, which follows four songs later, emerged from the realizations of the same experience. Goin’ To Missouri (Missouri Loves Company) grew from a punny remark by Ferne Bork, James’ singing partner through the ’80s, as they passed through that Midwestern state. James’ love of travel meets his sometime surreal sense of humor in the bluegrass-tinged National Geographic-inspired country tongue-in-cheeker, The Bleak And Frozen Tundra Of Your Heart.
By way of contrast, In The Northern Hemisphere refracts its not dissimilar, wintry subject matter through the songmaker’s prism to quite a different effect, resulting in a lovesong at once upbeat and delicate, personal then universal. Weary of the superficiality and “emptiness that comes” from “loving without love”, James longs for a deeper, more meaningful connection in It Happens Every Time posits “the traveler’s law” wherein whenever one prepares to depart, an equal opposing inertial force creates events uniquely designed to impel him to want to stay. Clearly the most overtly autobiographical is the album’s penultimate title song, Like The Wind, its philosophy chiseled as into a headstone those values and qualities which propel this song crafter along with the current of life, and in particular the minstrel’s traditional healthy skepticism regarding authority and the trappings of power. The song’s bridge recalls the cyclical nature of things reflected in his Cycle Song of Life (The River Song) on an earlier recording. The final song is, appropriately, James’ translation of renowned Vietnamese song-poet Pham Duy’s What Shall I Take?, a meditative soliloquy on death, the ultimate journey.
Like The Wind is handsomely packaged in a recycled paperboard sleeve printed with vegetable-based inks, eschewing the more ubiquitous plastic jewel box. Even the clear cello wrap is non-petroleum based and completely biodegradable. Pioneering environmentally-friendly packaging since the early ’90s, WorldWind is proud to have been an early model for creative eco-awareness.
“I didn’t want to let any more time go by without telling you how very, VERY much I like your new CD. It’s really a work of artistry, intricate, surprising, sometimes funny, always interesting. And you are such a good songwriter, James. Your quirky turns of phrase, the way that you consciously avoid doing the obvious, leading us towards a rhyme and then quickly spin away… And I also appreciate how artfully you modulate musically. Your arrangements are really tasty and I am impressed with how much work went into this collection.”
–Molly Scott, PhD., Composer/Singer/Psychologist