Jemima James - At Longview Farm
The ten song release At Longview Farm is a thirty-seven year old recording that only sees its first distribution this year. James, a descendant of iconic American writers Henry and William James, worked at Longview Farm Studio located in Western Massachusetts during the late 1970’s and got to know some of the most iconic artistic figures of that era during her employment there. The Rolling Stones, Arlo Guthrie, and John Belushi, among many others, spent time working on projects there and James took advantage of her good fortune by further honing her own artistic skills during this period and, as well, recording what was surely intended to be her debut album. The songs on At Longview Farm have commercial value, but they are also the product of an artist with a shrewd understanding of the tradition forming the bedrock of her technique and the ability to transform it into something uniquely her own.
Her ability to bring commercial elements into play within this context is particularly valuable to the album’s success. It’s evident from the first song, “Sensible Shoes”, that her talents for folk rock never prevent her from crafting material capable of reaching an even wider audience. Other songs like the second track, “Havana Cigar”, are cut from a much more traditional cloth and emphasize storytelling elements in their lyrical content while still exhibit enough folk rock appeal that it escapes the land of the purist folk and reaches for something much broader and more inclusive. “Easy Come, Easy Go” shows off her commercial talents at their near zenith on the record and zips past the listen with confidence and light-footed musicality, but it isn’t a vapid piece and makes a real impact on the listener. There’s a much more global feel on “Esperate” that goes far beyond the constrained limits laid down by Americana forms and James handles the singing of such exotic material with the same adept style she exhibits on the more traditional textures.
The tandem of “One More Rodeo” and its follow-up “Jackson County” bring the album’s compelling contrasts in sharp relief. The former is another breezy folk rock track spiced up with some pop strains, but it isn’t lightweight in any respect, just more musically exuberant. The latter song “Jackson County” revisits the storytelling virtues heard in earlier songs like “Havana Cigar”, but it does so with a much wider scope and greater attention to detail than before. “Billy Baloo” has a similar approach that concentrates, this time out, on giving a believable voice to the song’s subject and succeeds quite well thanks to both the nuance in James’ writing and in her vocal. The tensions working within the songs on At Longview Farm are perfectly orchestrated and there’s never any sense of those influences leading her down any artistic blind alleys. The songwriting also escapes any hint of self-indulgence, a remarkable feat alone for a first time recording artist who, undoubtedly, hoped to impress listeners. It’s the abundant skill and cool confidence that makes this such a pleasurable experience.
9 out of 10 stars.