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More James, Less Lennon

Josh James
Nordaggio’s Coffee Shop, Tulsa, OK
November 18th, 2005

Some acoustic-toting guys that you see in coffeeshops only play originals- and you wish they wouldn’t. Some of those guys play a lot of covers- and you wish they would just play their own stuff. Josh James is definitely one of the latter guys, as was clearly evidenced at his sets at Nordaggio’s recently.

Basically, Josh James has two sounds- one for covers and one for his own stuff. His own stuff is moody, deliberate, and downtempo- much like Iron and Wine without the wispy vocals. Two of his best tunes- “Home” and “Nothing to Lose”- play out like orchestras of emotion, unleashing excellent guitar ditties and breathy, emotive vocal lines around every corner. “Nothing to Lose” is especially notable for its vocal lines, and is easily the best song that James has in his arsenal.

But he’s not a one-trick pony- his more upbeat stuff, while not as good as his slow stuff, is mildly reminiscent of Bob Dylan in its delivery (now I know there are a couple of indie hipsters out there who just stopped reading the Independent Clauses for that comparison, but hey, it’s what I heard). One thing it’s not reminiscent of is the Beatles- and that lead to major problems in James’ set.

As before noted, James enjoys to play cover songs- especially ones penned by Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr. Unfortunately, his vocal tone and strum patterns are not conducive to playing these songs- the guitar playing is adequate but not inspired and the vocals are overly loud and highly strained. In some songs, it was almost painful to listen, as James began to sound gaudy and misplaced in the coffeeshop he was playing in. He did some covers adequately, but for the most part, his 3-set stand of covers and originals could’ve been pared down to one set of originals. When you get better crowd response from your originals than from the supposedly ‘crowd-pleasing’ originals, it’s a good sign to tone back your quantity of covers or choose more fitting ones.

Josh James sounds good when he’s playing what he’s good at. When he ventures out into waters charted by others, it all starts to go awry. Thankfully, it’s a pretty easy fix.

-Stephen Carradini