Showcased at several of San Diego’s intimate music venues, Michael James has been entrancing audiences with his deeply introspective songs. If you’re interested in hearing someone employ the art form of singer/songwriter to its greatest extent, you should certainly check him out, and Tangled, his recently released 10-song CD, is a good starting point.
For some folks, I’m certain that their inner lives are fairly uncluttered. But for the rest of us things are more complicated. We desire love, status, independence, even a simple good night’s sleep. But those desires are muddled by past regrets, old guilt trips, and other emotions that we don’t even have a clue as to what they are all about. James’ songs reside in this murky, inchoate realm, where all that we want is not only in conflict but is, well, tangled.
As James sings in “Cities Burning Down” these tangled emotions can lead us away from life and the hear and now and have us “prefer the nightmare to the dream.” Throughout the disk the theme of seeking to understand, to shed light on our inner life, reemerges, only to be countered by the urge to turn away from what we all find to be disturbing.
Each song is under three minutes; “How You’ll Know” is nine seconds shy of two minutes. Although I don’t believe they were intended as such, these brief, intense, emotional sketches thus wind up constituting something of a suite. After taking us on tour deep within himself—deep within ourselves as well—James offers a benediction with “The Way It Goes,” seeming to say that yes, the last 20 minutes or so of music has been a rough ride, but the examined life is worth living
James possesses a rough-hewn baritone, which he well uses to convey the emotional heft of his songs. Lance Wetli provides solid drumming on a few tracks, with Chris Meng playing all the other instruments. I particularly enjoyed Meng’s spare but spot-on banjo playing.
I saw no credit to a recording studio; so my guess is that this is a living room recording with a recording program on a PC. The sound of the recording is nonetheless very good. The timbres of James’ voice and Chris Meng’s banjo come across very well. Total running time is less than 30 minutes. Everybody knows by now that CDs under 30 minutes get demerits. For Tangled, two demerits.
I usually say nothing about cover art, but in this case, the photo of a telephone pole next to an old ornate tower, with all the power lines and phone lines of communication, coiled, tied up, and going this way and that, offers a perfect metaphor for the contents of the CD.
Tangled is a beautiful recording. If you want to spend some time with a musician who is brave enough to look deeply within himself and take you there and back, then I highly recommend that you check out Michael James.