A 1st introduction to a man who is Possessed by Paul James.
My first intro to Possessed By Paul James was sometime in early ’07 at an H.B.E showcase at the Hole In The Wall in Austin Texas. I didn’t know much about him and the only notion I had of the quality of the show I would get came in the wide eyed and nodding instruction of friends familiar with his work to “just watch”.
I took my usual preferred spectating stance up front and to the left as he took a seat on a chair on a wood platform on the stage surrounded by an unconventional setup of an old amp, various instruments and a battered tambourine rigged at his feet. A decent crowd had accumulated, hungry and shifting with anticipation. He settled his fiddle and picked up a bow so frayed it looked as if a razor had been taken to it sending it’s hairs, thick with rosin, to curl in all directions. Without introduction he pulled out a few stark and rolling notes. His knees jerked. a slight semi rhythmic spasm at first then a pulling and pounding of his foot into the wood and rigged tambourine creating a full and layered thump that built into a pulse that he let hang in the air between the increasingly frenetic fiddle arrangement. He craned his neck and reeled, gritting and gnashing his teeth akin to the effects of some kind of religious revival. He let out seemingly involuntary yips and yells and sharp exclamations as the music and rhythm welled up and out into the crowd. He burst into the hook and I was taken by the rawness and clarity of his vocals and keenly original and intimate lyrical content. Throughout the set he switched between banjo, fiddle, and guitar hammering out a catalog of intense, emotionally charged songs. This was the real deal and possessed was a good word for it. This wasn’t just a show this was a 40 minute battle cry against heartache and the high cost of living.
It is clear through his albums and performances that Possessed by Paul James is his music. His talent for viscerally projecting the weight of living makes him an unapologetic conduit of his own device. There is nothing contrived or forced. He seems to be continually and with great humility ‘working it out’ through his songs. The resulting progress is illustrated in the way his tone has altered in the time between his first self titled release and his most recent endeavor “feed the family”.
In an earlier performance just before the birth of his son, I witnessed as he exscorscized the stress he was under almost alarmingly. He explained to the Audience he would have to make it quick as his pregnant wife was waiting in the van. He delivered the usual set but towards the end he loosened and unraveled and started chanting and wailing ” I’ve got babies on my mind! I’ve got babies on my mind!” Men were stomping and shaking their fists in response to the rhythm and women were dancing and swinging their hips to what appeared to me to be a nervous breakdown. Good show to be sure but this this was serious. This was a stranger wrestling his struggle to the ground in front of a “mostly” live audience. The struggle to pay his bills and his dues, to straddle lives without losing footing on either side of a duplicitous nature and the struggle as a man to bring new life into the world in uncertain times.
Feed the family is a 12 track anthem to the general growth and maturity gained through sacrifice and reflection. Kinder versions of ‘Color of my bloody nose’ and ‘Old man’s souls’ don’t retreat from their original power but relax their grip as if reconciled by time. Tracks like ‘Older in my body’ We welcome you home’ and ‘fathers and sons’ are all shining testaments to the best of earnest song writing. The album in its entirety seems to end a chapter in a life on a triumphant note and as a fan I eagerly await the next installments from this truly unique and irreplaceable artist.
In an excerpt from Faulkner lies a fitting sentiment, ” Not for glory and least of all for profit , but to create out of the materials of the human spirit that which did not exist before.” I just got word that PPJ bagged best alternative country artist at the independent music awards. Goes to show a little glory is inevitable when the material is lightning in a bottle and as for the latter, the lines blur in the expectation of profit when its time to “feed the family”.
Tressa A. Burns – Hillgrass Bluebilly Headquarters