Jemima James - When You Get Old
Released with her long-shelved debut album At Longview Farm, Jemima James’ When You Get Old is her most recent recording and finds her talents greater than ever after three plus decades away from recording new music. Her folk music roots, naturally, are the driving force behind the songwriting on When You Get Old, but everything is likewise firmly rooted in melody and strong lyrical detail. She has the natural inclinations of a storyteller and a pitch perfect interior ear for finding just the right image for her subject without ever slipping into overwrought writing or overly theatrical delivery. Instead, the thirteen songs on When You Get Old sound well “lived in”, finely tuned for maximum effect, and guided by a knowing artistic hand that brings just the right amount of creativity and force to the individual efforts without ever upsetting the artistic balance that has given birth to this album.
The album opens with its charming and well written title track. “When You Get Old” takes a different approach to writing about the effects of aging by assuming a wry, slightly humorous stand, but nonetheless incorporating a more serious subtext to the song as a whole. “Magician” slides out of the speakers with lovely, sleepy grace. The lyrical content is perfectly realized – James takes full literary advantage of the double-meanings and metaphors implicit in the subject matter and it all works. “Beaver Moon” has a similar musical bent to the preceding track, but the lyrical content looks outside instead of within and there isn’t the same mournful undertow affecting the song’s mood as there is on “Magician”.
“If I Could Only Fly” is different from the preceding songs in one critical way – though James is accompanied by other instruments, their prominence in the mix is much lower here than any previous track. This is predominantly a solo performance carried by nothing else except James’ acoustic guitar and her voice. Some strong, yet tasteful, drumming powers much of “If It’s the End”, but there’s a little light dark humor in the lyrical content that tempers the more serious implications hinted at by the lyric. The instrumental breaks are quite tasty, particularly the slide guitar work. She downshifts from the mid-tempo pace of that song into the slower, much more patience unwinding style of “Bats in the Belfry”. The muted musical accompaniment places James’ voice front and center.
“Tennessee Blues” can’t help but make me think a little about the classic country track “Tennessee Waltz” and the song even seems to hint at that with the light waltz twist of its arrangement. James’ vocal wraps around the melody in a very appealing way. The harmonica work gives listeners the biggest dose of blues in this track and hits its mark quite nicely. The fiddle filling “Slow Dancing With You” is a perfect touch for this slightly elegiac and outright romantic track. Much of James’ lyrics concentrate on forming images for the listener, but the imagery is never inaccessible. The album’s final song, “Nothing New”, is the clearest solo performance on the entire disc and balances its array of emotions quite nicely thanks to a James vocal that never leans too far in any particular direction. There’s an impressive unity to this album; When You Get Old is full of subtle shadings, emotion, and great musical fluency.
9 out of 10 stars.