Personnel: Jason James (vocals, acoustic guitar); Josh Owen (guitar, lap steel guitar); Scott Davis (guitar, baritone guitar); Keith Gattis (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, background vocals); Glen Duncan , Katy Cox, Sean Orre (fiddle); Jim "Moose" Brown (piano); John Henry Trinko (Hammond b-3 organ); Dave Racine, Kenny Smith (drums); John Evans (background vocals).
Texan singer/songwriter Jason James puts his own stamp on classic country music with his 2015 self-titled debut on New West Records. With his clean, no-frills approach and gently retro image, it would be tempting to peg James as yet another throwback artist trying to recapture stylistic glories of decades past. While he does recall an earlier, simpler era of country, he does so with a disarming classiness, particularly on the strength of songs like "Welcome to the Blues" and the lead single "I've Been Drinkin' More," a hooky drinking anthem that could hold its own among the genre's best. A native of Texas City on Galveston Bay, James certainly had country music going on all around him, yet his formative years were spent fronting punk and alt-rock bands. His transformation came at the foothills of his father's record crate, where he rediscovered the kind of music that his Lone Star State does so well. You can hear his rock pedigree in the growling rockabilly of "Hot Mouth Mama," which is surely a barn-burning moment on-stage, but his talents feel much better suited to tracks like the wry, Hank Sr.-flavored shuffle "True Blues" or "World of Make Believe," a rich romantic ballad in the mold of George Jones' countrypolitan classics. Supporting James throughout are some top-notch musicians and a pair of veteran producers in John Evans and Keith Gattis. The sound is robust and natural with plenty of fine fiddling, pedal steel work, and baritone guitars punching up all the right places. There is definitely a retro element not unlike what Sturgill Simpson delivered on his Grammy-nominated Metamodern Sounds in Country Music in 2014. But what Simpson did for the freewheeling outlaw '70s, James attempts to do here for old-school '60s country by offering a handsome set of well-written songs in a pleasing, familiar style. It's a sound that suits him both as a writer and a singer on this strong debut effort. ~ Timothy Monger