Now Playing: Peggy James’ ‘Paint Still Wet’

Image courtesy of Peggy James

American singer-songwriter and musician Peggy James is prepping for the release of her upcoming, new album. It’s titled Paint Still Wet and drops on September 18th. But first, for those not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.

Peggy James

Image courtesy of Peggy James

According to online sources, Peggy James is a Wisconsin native who spent her formative years in the Southwest. Her rockin’ resume includes four previous platters. They include Help Me Out, Crossroad Moment, and Joan of Arc.  

Her most recent release, Nothing In Between dropped in 2018. She has performed locally, and across the country in various locations in Austin, Chicago, and Nashville. James has opened for such other artists as Salt Creek, Iris Dement, and BoDeans.   

Signature sound

Peggy James’ signature sound is a mix of multiple music genres including Americana, country, pop, and rock. Some call it “21st Century Pop.” Obvious influences include The Beatles and Elton John.  

In a recent communique, the songstress discussed what inspires her. She said: 

“What inspires me the most in writing a song is a good story. Traveling, observing, listening, and reflecting on my own life experiences affords a lot of material because there are so many stories to be told. Putting these stories to music is a way to connect these stories to people on deeper emotional levels.”

Paint Still Wet

This is her fifth album. It includes 12 original tracks. Here James leads the way on acoustic guitar and vocals. She is backed by other artists including producer Jim Eannelli (electric, acoustic and bass guitar, autoharp, drums, and percussion). Anna Vafai (violin), and John Calarco (drums and percussion).    

Track by Track

The album opener is “Let’s Fly Away.” It’s a nice, upbeat radio-ready lead-in. It features guest artist Lil’ Rev on harmonica and ukulele.

The second selection is “Wiser.” It’s a thoughtful even pensive piece. James delivers with wistful (but not wispy) vocals, too. As is the case with much of her music, it might take multiple listens to spot the various musical elements from different genres.

The next number is “Holdin’ Hands.” The tone and rhythm are similar to that of the album opener. The subject and some of the guitar work are obviously inspired by The Beatles whom she mentioned in the lyrics. The jangly touch is reminiscent of something by The Byrds. It features guest artist Victor Span on drums.

“San Antone” follows here. This one is perfect for a road trip and reveals what kind of an early impact San Antone had on James. It features guest appearances by Guy Fiorentini on uke bass and Daryl Stuermer (Genesis/Phil Collins Band, Jean-Luc Ponty) on guitar.  

James changes the pace a bit with “Can’t Do Lonely Anymore.” This slower selection has a definite blues feel to it. It’s like she is performing in some little honky-tonk club somewhere. You can hear it in the music and her change of vocal style. Connie Grauer sits in on piano.

“Sailor Knots” moves but isn’t bluntly drum-driven. The tempo change and the subtle background vocals give this song its own identity.  “Lighter Than a Feather” is another fine example of how James mixes musical elements from multiple genres to create something different. It’s both sincerely emotional and yet remains surprisingly light as she sings of a lost loved one.

“Head Over Heels” is a winner. Who can’t relate to the message here? Additionally, it has compositional elements that make it friendly and listener-friendly too. Jim Liban guests on harmonica.  

Next is “Nothin’s The Same.” This one has its own unique beat. It has a calypso or world music feel to it. No doubt this one plays well with a live audience. The lyrics might recall sad moments in life but, hey, you can dance to it.  

“Fallen Star” is about San Diego . . . maybe. It actually sounds like it was intentionally made for gigs in Country and Western bars. It has a southwestern vibe to it that would make it perfect for some country stations. 

James picks the pace up a bit on “Scarlet and Gold.” Speaking of “gold”, it does seem to have a bit of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-era Elton John in the mix. (Mind you, your rockin’ reviewer could simply be getting old, too.) Ah, what does it matter? It works.  

The album endnote is “Gettin’ Serious.” It’s a new version of an older song.  It features perhaps James’ most individualistic style change and it has a live feel to it. You know she could have fun with the guys in the front row with this one. No doubt she’ll be using this song as an opener or closer for future live gigs if she’s not doing it already.    

Overall . . .

Overall, this album is aptly named in that while James has years of experience in the industry, she approaches her projects as if she, as an artist, is not quite finished no matter how brightly her colorful work shines. She sings straight from the heart about such subjects as friendship and love and there is poetry not only in her lyrics but in her soft, resonant vocals as well.

While she is not one to intentionally violate the boundaries of any given music genre, she is quite willing to let her musical messages and song-stories tunefully travel where they will. It’s all about what feels right for each song. So check out James’ Paint Still Wet and you just might fall “Head Over Heels” for her.