James House Delivers on Broken Glass Twisted Steel
The beer’s on tap for two men hunkered down at the bar, ball caps pulled low. One turns to the other and mutters, “So what’s goin’ on with the girlfriend?” Comes the pointed reply, “Hey, I ain’t that lonely yet!”
Laughs songwriter James House, “That’s just me being a smartass….and that’s one time it paid off.” His original “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” peaked at #2 on the country charts and returned a 1994 performance Grammy for recording artist Dwight Yoakam. Twenty years later, James covers his own song on newly released album Broken Glass Twisted Steel (2014 Victor House Records). His is a much different version, turning on the experience of the vocalist and the emotion of the lyric. While the 1994 recording features a smooth vocal and a more stylized delivery, House uses short, clipped phrases and the grit in his voice to convey a sense of loss and regret, those feelings reinforced by lone fiddle and acoustic guitar. It’s a compelling performance and one of several highlights on an album that features eleven original songs, all written or co-written by House.
It’s music that is long overdue, coming nearly two decades after the release of Days Gone By — an album recently rediscovered across the pond, where songs like “This Is Me Missing You” have found success on the the U.K. dance charts. The irony brings a smile to House’s voice as he recalls the 1995 reaction to the rock influenced release. “James, you’re ahead of your time,” said the label executives. House is philosophical. “I kept trying to dial it back,” he says, and now that music “seems tame compared to what’s going on these days” in country music. “Now it’s like you’ve got 70′s rock going on …with rap,” he muses. Sometimes you’re behind the times, sometimes ahead … and sometimes that train pulls into the station right on schedule.
His new album Broken Glass Twisted Steel has arrived just in time to leverage demand for music on the soulful side of country — music with a story to tell rather than a party to remember. Opening track “Train Wreck” is a relationship song, the story of a bond that survives the ups and downs, that thrives on volatility. “Broken glass, twisted steel / I just like the way it feels.” The song was co-written with Australian artist Adam Eckersley, featuring a beat that grooves and an instrumental break that is pure delight when guitar, fiddle, and steel guitar are called upon to solo.
In a sense, the story could be a metaphor for a lengthy career in the music industry. Ups and downs, twists and turns, but too much fun, too much drive and satisfaction to let go. Asked why he elected to produce the new album on his own independent record label, House teases, “Pretty much because I think I’ve run out of labels – Epic, Atlantic, Warner, MCA… I’ve been on them all!”
The truth is that the indie label allowed the singer-songwriter-musician and co-producer complete control over the new album. That control has allowed elements of his artistic past to be incorporated into music that is both fresh and dynamic. The rock influence from Days Gone By is subtly recaptured through the musicians who were recruited to play on the new release. Brent Mason returns on electric guitar; Brad Pemberton on percussion and Andrew Higley are both “rock guys” playing on their first country album.
When vocalist Kim Fleming arrived in studio, she reminded James that she sang background on the first recording of his original song “A Broken Wing.” After years of performing the song live, House now includes his own rendition of the #1 hit on Broken Glass Twisted Steel. While Martina McBride may own the high notes, the songwriter is an equally effective storyteller when his vocal is highlighted against limited instrumental support, as the verse begins.
Fleming and Kim Mont (affectionately known in studio as “Kimfolk”) are also the source of the heavenly voices heard on “Every Time It Rains”, the lead single from the new album. Written with co-producer Michael Bradford, the song was tucked away and nearly forgotten in James’ computer catalog. He’d written a number of rain songs, trying to get the music and lyrics just right . “Rain songs – it’s almost a genre” says House. “If you played them all back to back, you could fill days of radio, I think!”
Happily, “Every Time It Rains” was rediscovered, pulled from archive and arranged with a nod to country soul pioneer Ray Charles. The romantic verse and melody feature House’s lead vocal answered sweetly by the two Kims in a throwback style that pays tribute to the Raelettes. Even the songwriter is satisfied with the result. “I think I finally got it right on that one.”
Perfected the rain song, and “got it right” throughout Broken Glass Twisted Steel. The music is melodic, the lyrics well matched and the vocals delivered by a master storyteller. Highly recommended.