Jemima James – When You Get Old
Team Love Records, co-owned by songwriter Conor Oberst and Nate Krenkel, has built its reputation on fielding some of the most creative songwriters and bands working today that are, more than likely, overlooked by the mainstream music buying public and giving them a supportive forum for releasing and promoting their work. In the case of Jemima James, Team Love has done a marvelous job of rehabilitation. The release of When You Get Old, paired with James’ 1979 never-released debut At Longview Farm, exposes fans of Americana music to one of the great unheralded talents of her generation. When You Get Old is a recent recording and amply demonstrates that James’ talents didn’t fade at all in the interim since those halcyon late seventies’ days but, instead, have only broadened and deepened since then. They are distinctly different releases, but put together as they are, they unintentionally provide a bit of autobiography in musical form and reveal much about James’ compelling journey from the folk rock world of the late 1970’s up to today.
Unlike its predominantly electrified predecessor, When You Get Old takes a tempered and decidedly low key approach. The album is dominated by acoustic textures with only occasional and even-handed flashes of electrified instruments. The songs frequently rely on a standard assortment of instruments for the songwriting; harmonica, slide guitar, and fiddle. These instruments add considerable color to James’ acoustic guitar structured songwriting and play alongside her contributions rather than over the top. The vocals are another strong suit. On songs like the title cut, “Beaver Moon”, “If I Could Only Fly”, and “Golden Boy”, among others, James’ vocal takes her fine lyrics and elevates them to the level of performed poetry thanks to her sensitive phrasing and careful consideration of the individual needs of each track.
She is able to approximate the feel and atmosphere of traditional music without ever falling into the trap of imitation. The aforementioned “Beaver Moon”, “If It’s the End”, “Tennessee Blues”, and the later song “One and Only” echo more strongly than others with the influence of traditional country and blues music. These aren’t overly dramatic stylistic touches; she has the confidence of a songwriter who knows how to incorporate these qualities into her work while never sacrificing her identity. She likewise has the confidence to vary her approach throughout the songwriting on When You Get Old – enjoyable and attention catching country and blues excursions are set snugly against straight up folk songs like the album’s concluding number “Nothing New” and her audience, thanks to the album’s overall quality, can move seamlessly from one song to another.
Albums of this tenor and quality are increasingly rare. Jemima James still stands as a brilliant exponent of this tradition with the wisdom and musical talent to breathe abundant life into each of these thirteen songs. When You Get Old has genuine affecting moments scattered across each of its songs and a masterful interpreter who doesn’t cheat her audience at any point.
9 out of 10 stars
William Elgin III