Jemima James - When You Get Old
Jemima James’ album from Team Love Records, When You Get Old, has been released with a companion piece, her thirty seven year old intended debut At Longview Farm. It’s instructive to compare the two albums. Both albums have a lot of musical credibility they derive from their command of traditional American music, but they put that knowledge to work in distinctly different ways. At Longview Farm is a product of its era more so than When You Get Old – besides the fact that there’s a bevy of instrumentation employed on the first album that is missing from her follow-up, the production wholeheartedly encourages listeners to hear both works as emerging from completely different contexts. At Longview Farm’s ten tracks are musically substantive, but they are also clearly geared for radio play. The thirteen songs on When You Get Old, however, have a sound and approach that signals they were truly written and recorded for no one else by Jemima James. She presents them in such a way, however, that those who share her tastes will find it well night impossible to not admire them as well.
She opens When You Get Old with its title song. While there’s a wealth of autobiographical musings in this song, there’s an abundance of humor as well. It isn’t jokey or punch-line oriented; instead, James conveys the darker humor of the piece through her vocal delivery and phrasing. The music has a deceptively light-hearted bounce as well that belies the song’s more serious subtext. She uses organ on “Magician” to further flesh out the color in its quasi-waltz time arrangement, but it is her voice and lyrical content working with the arrangement that really makes this song a success. The sleepy slide guitar stretching out over the even-tempered shuffle fueling “If I Could Only Fly” underplays the yearning at the heart of this song, but James really does well with weaving seemingly contrasting elements in a song into something lucid and credible.
The tempo picks up some on “If It’s the End” and some of the darker humor present in songs like the title cut returns here. James gives this song a much straighter delivery than the earlier track and the music certainly doesn’t attempt approximating or exceeding the jauntiness of the first song, but the sighing with a smile resignation in the lyrics is difficult to ignore. Harmony vocals make a significant contribution to When You Get Old and few songs benefit more from their use than “Bats in the Belfry”. The same lazy bluesy feel surrounding the earlier “If I Could Only Fly” is strengthened further on the song “One and Only” along with some tasteful brush drumming that gives the track a consistent, but never overpowering, pulse. James ends When You Get Old with “Nothing New” which somehow manages to be a little moodier than the earlier songs while still affirming life before she exits. It is, for all intents and purposes, a solo performance sans any sort of double-tracked or harmony vocals and, like the rest of this album, James carries it off with subtlety and panache.
9 out of 10 stars