James Maddock – CD Review - Wake Up and Dream - Casa del Fuego Release
While driving to work one morning I turned on the Centenary College FM radio station WNTI and was pleasantly surprised by the tune they were playing. The melody is infectious, the lyrical story is clever, sung in a voice that’s not that wimpy, neurotic or egotistical rock star on Valium -- so prevalent in many bands today.
Instead, I pull over to get coffee and I have to sit and wait for the song to end because I have to know who’s singing this track. It doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard in quite awhile. “And I’ve just seen an old ghost, hide behind a lamp post….”
And the radio station doesn’t announce it.
“….I wonder what became of, those kids I knew the names of….”
Fortunately, WNTI posts the titles played on their website and I just look at the time and later – there it was.
It’s not country, but it could have been, it’s not folk -- but some folkie could cover it….it’s a rock song with a little message…like in the old days with a clever little story woven with realistic lyrics telling a true tale. It’s a song even someone from the 1940’s could have related to. This song was a big glass of Jack Daniels -- the melody is so smooth on the ears -- it’s a miracle it’s even being played on radio. But, WNTI is a college radio station – and with this choice, they picked a winner.
The last time I heard a similar memorable tune was years ago – and it was by a major performer – Bruce Springsteen – when he sang about the “Girls In Their Summer Clothes.” But, this isn’t Bruce Springsteen.
This is someone who fits neatly between two New Jersey songwriting legends with similar vocals: James Maddock is the missing link between Billy Falcon and Bruce Springsteen. And Mr. Maddock is not from New Jersey. But when he sings about returning to your old neighborhood – New Jersey or a working class neighborhood in England – it all fits together.
James is the new voice of rock gruffness, rawness and poignancy. Yes, poignancy.
And it works.
Anyone who appreciates the sound of either Falcon or Springsteen will marvel at the quality of work James Maddock has produced. He is not imitating either. He just fits in-between them – most importantly -- creatively and artistically.
I liken James’ personality and approach to British-born Canadian and former leader of the Payolas, Paul Hyde. Hyde also writes intensely beautiful songs such as “Hastings Street,” and more recently “I Miss My Mind The Most.” English-singer/songwriter Chris Rea comes to mind vocally and Australia’s Darryl Braithwaite (“All I Do”). Maddock is in good company here even though many Americans may be blissfully ignorant of these fine performers and writers.
And the song being played that morning: it was a new track off an EP (extended play release) not on this recently released album – so it's a bonus. “My Old Neighborhood.”
Maybe it was left off because it didn’t fit the sequencing….no matter. The song is worth seeking out. The video – produced and directed by Mary Ellen Matthews -- is good for anyone who needs to be reminded about going home again.
The new album – "Wake Up and Dream" is a carefully crafted one – albeit a conceptual one I presume. It contains songs threaded together…or could be. There seems to be an underlining message or theme being discussed, taught or simply implied.
Beautiful Now – The opening track – and after listening to “My Old Neighborhood,” numerous times before acquiring this new album – I was pleasantly surprised when the lead off track was another recollection song. James has a special touch with songs about reminiscing.
“You were beautiful then, but you’re way more beautiful now” – a positive song for any woman doubting her worth, esteem or attractiveness. Usually it takes me awhile to warm up to an album of songs but this lead off one wrapped around my ears immediately.
James’ wonderful, sincere ability to stir memories with a riveting melody, chose a subject not often sung today (yes, country songwriters do some tunes like this -- but it’s usually a little sappy around the edges and repetitious) but James’ words are poignant and meaningful. He didn’t let the song get away from him or make it over dramatic.
Is there an audience for this? Baby boomers are in the millions and the fact that he sings with Springsteen-authority without imitating it -- is a big plus. “Beautiful Now,” was co-written with Mike Scott – leader of the highly respected Scottish band The Waterboys.
That’s a very impressive co-writer to have. It’s even more a perfect partnership for James Maddock.
Scott found success with The Waterboys years ago and many of his songs have intense beautifully arranged melodies. “The Whole of the Moon,” is one fine example and was covered by Jennifer Warnes. Now, with James Maddock, this is a big endorsement.
Step Into the Water – Nice shift in musical gears from “Beautiful Now.” A little repetitious but here Maddock shows there is more to his repertoire. He cleverly takes a cue to the path of “you never know a person until you have walked in their shoes.” Another topic seldom expressed in song today. James is mining an area rock music has ignored for a long time. At the risk of sounding cliché, younger songwriters could learn a lesson or two from James Maddock. He seems to be from the old school where each song is important, can stand alone and is not just a good groove.
Stella’s Driving – This track suggests it could be a “lost song” from the Springsteen songbook – but, on closer listen, this is another slice of life rendered with brilliance and the way it’s performed – a definite James Maddock song.
The melody is instantly memorable. Never over reaches. It’s not given that Del Shannon over produced rock gloss. It’s pensive, tight with carefully chosen words that makes it quite original despite similarities to Bruce. This one is more countrified. Not Springsteen’s strength. I like the banjo sound – but with technology being what it is – it’s probably the mandolin. Influence is not a bad thing -- as long as you have the talent to polish it to your own experience and creativity. This is what James Maddock does. The influences are there but Maddock’s performance rises above it.
Mr. Universe – A haunting piano melody. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Yeah, we’ve heard lines like that before but they weren’t stitched around a powerful lyrical-story. This song is strongly reminiscent of New Jersey’s other terrific singer-songwriter – the aforementioned Billy Falcon who has a similar style to James Maddock – especially on the beautiful Falcon song: “ Heaven’s Highest Hill.”
But, while Mr. Maddock has more in common with Mr. Falcon’s song poignancy “Mr. Universe,” has become a favorite because even though I’ve enjoyed Billy Falcon for years – his gruff voice can wear after many listens while James Maddock’s still has a sweetness to its whiskey soaked tone. To my ears, this is what makes for a singer who has melodic cajones.
You and Jean – Now I must strongly impress on the reader -- when I compare Mr. Maddock to anyone it’s for reference only. Mr. Maddock is quite talented and original enough to stand alone. So, having said that, this song reminds me of another beloved artist I will use to compliment his work: Tom Waits. This song could have been from Waits’ most melancholic and beautiful era over 30 years ago.
Those years when Waits made that infamous phone call to “Martha.” I’m going to be playing James’ track a lot in the next year. It’s one of his strongest tales and worth repeated listens. Placing James Maddock CDs next to Bruce, Billy and Tom Waits – is only my making room for an artist who deserves to be taking up space along side such excellent performers.
Wake Up and Dream – So far, the new tracks are paced well. The title track has more memorable piano from Oli Rockberger and the acoustic guitars chime all around it slinky like a sexy woman trying her best to get attention.
Very nice harmonica at the end from James and before you know it -- the title track is gone. Nothing on this album seems to wear out its welcome.
Living A Lie – This track opens with some fast catchy acoustic guitars and then the band kicks into high gear. A reminder of just how those classic rock melodies used to take root in your ears in the 60’s. An instant radio hit. This is a nicely driven track that takes up residency in your memory as it plays. Most songwriters would kill to have written a song as cool as this.
I was listening and not paying attention at first and then, it made me stop. I was bopping my head, clapping my hands, and I found myself dancing around the room like a fool. Hell, it’s a perfectly dramatic song with all the ingredients of what makes a great rock song. I was enjoying it.
This track is powerful and builds with steady drums. Maddock just punches out those vocals like a heavyweight fighter then suddenly just coasts into jabs. Circling. Then bam! The build is back and it’s quite a piece of rock music art work. You can just picture the band playing this live and the audience’s hair smoking. I can’t wait for the twenty minute live version…..remember those days? Yeah, they can jam away on this track to my delight anytime.
That’s Where You’re Wrong – Again, pacing an album’s tracks is everything. From the high octane fuel injected “Living A Lie,” the band returns with another beautiful heartfelt ballad that begins with muffled drums – probably mallets – anchoring the melody around James’ intensely reflective vocals. Female backing vocals add a warm feel. As usual, the playing is perfection. Very well rehearsed. Nothing sappy or over done. The secret is the same when a cook makes a perfect meal. Not too much salt, not too many spices. At the end, it sounds like they added a little toy piano -- and that was a real nice touch. Beautiful.
Stoned On You – Some musicians would best be advised not to write something with a title like this – but, the ever clever storyteller James Maddock is -- he builds a catchy melody around the subject of simply being “intoxicated” on someone he obviously is in love with.
The added strings and female vocal support surprisingly lends nice color to this love song. The piano is a little reminiscent of the classy Swiss band -- Double -- that always used great piano in their somber songs -- like their lone hit “The Captain of Her Heart.” That was a piano style I missed hearing and I smiled when I heard it’s similarities. A real nice sound for a song like this even if the sound was a coincidence. A winner.
Love Is A Flower – Another song that recalls what made 60’s melodies so memorable. An instant likeable positive radio friendly song. What impresses me most about Mr. Maddock is his ability to weave a simple story into a great song that many songwriters just don’t explore anymore or don’t have the insight to write. Also, the arrangements -- well thought out -- all deserve repeated listens.
James has a voice that is not perfect in the way that Elvis’ was, or even Elton John. Instead, his raw vocal – not as raw as either Springsteen or Falcon – is perfectly suited to a lovely song like this because it helps to make the song sound sincere.
Positive – With this track I would say rock and roll is alive and well in the soul of James Maddock.
For all I have said and compared James is a possible heir-apparent to Bruce Springsteen. What’s not to like? His music has that drive, he has that voice, soul and on this track -- he’s burning up the backstreet his own way. He has welded the grittiness of Billy Falcon to the rock and roll spirit of Springsteen.
Keep Your Dream – One of the most impressive final songs on an album. No fireworks. Just another upbeat positive song. It’s filled with enthusiasm and with a guitar chiming Woody Guthrie attitude. A nice exit.
A great little mandolin adds some dramatic effect. The lyric is probably the strongest James Maddock statement on the entire album. But, I can’t help but believe he saved the best for last in making the idea of “waking up to dream” come full circle. Sometimes quiet little jewels like this do that. Here, the song says something. It says something we all need to hear.
This album is worth the purchase just for this track alone. To my ears “Keep Your Dream,” is linked to the first track “Beautiful Now.” Maddock was talking to an older woman in the first song -- now – at the end -- he is echoing that strength to a much younger woman.
I have not heard many artists/songwriters who can sustain an entire album – but I found no filler on “Wake Up and Dream.”
I suggest checking out James Maddock’s website for live concerts @ jamesmaddock.net and on FaceBook as well. Judging from his videos it looks like his live shows can be inspiring, exciting and fun. Judging from “little personal reviews” on YouTube of “My Old Neighborhood,” has many happy listeners.
John Apice -- No Depression – April 2012
Released separate from this new LP his latest track & video “My Old Neighborhood” is available for viewing on No Depression. Final Note: James Maddock’s 2010 album “Sunrise on Avenue C” was well-received by reviewers (5 stars) on Amazon. An even earlier album (1999) under the moniker Wood – “Songs From Stamford Hill,” was equally well-received and praised by many posters.