Press & Reviews

Press & Reviews


The Nashville Musician — April-June 2023

Singer-songwriter James Talley is a 47-year AFM 257 member who recorded four critically acclaimed albums for Capitol Records in the 1970s, and performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. His music blends folk, blues, and country forms with poetic imagery and historical tales from the American Southwest, and he has been called the Godfather of Americana Music. Nashville City Blues is Talley’s autobiography, and it chronicles his unique journey from Oklahoma to New Mexico to Nashville, and beyond. Click here for full review…

Tryin’ Like the Devil review – Roots Music Report

5.0 out of 5 stars

New, revived meaning and worth rediscovery

Origins of outlaw country are traced back to the 1970s and the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Billie Joe Shaver, Lee Clayton and others. Singer-Songwriter James Talley was born in Tulsa, moved to Washington, New Mexico and then Nashville. Critically acclaimed but not widely known, he fused blues, country and social commentary into his songs. Some compared him to a mid-70s Woody Guthrie as he sang about “hard times and breadlines.” Talley built a studio in exchange for studio time, pressed 1,000 copies of his 1974 album and mailed them to country radio stations. Eventually, he landed a contract with Capitol, and this album is a special 40th anniversary reissue of his second (of four) projects for that label. President Jimmy Carter loved and understood country music, and first lady Rosalynn Carter once declared James Talley to be her favorite singer. Unfortunately, at the time, Talley’s songs were considered rather serious and radical for most country radio stations and therefore didn’t sell well. During the 80s and 90s, Talley released several projects on the German Bear Family Record label.

Populism is on the upswing, and Talley’s songs take new, revived meaning. Songs like “Forty Hours” and “Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?” will always remain relevant. Troubles and tension are everywhere. Some like “Got No Bread” don’t come across as particularly somber, extreme or revolutionary now. Witten by a working man just “Tryin’ Like The Devil” to be free, Talley’s music is also nostalgic. As Talley says in his liner notes, “Songs tell the stories of our lives … Songs come from deep in our hearts, deep in our thoughts, dreams, hopes, and longings.” Talley’s music, originally issued decades ago, is worth rediscovery. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)


Tryin Like the Devil review – Elmore Magazine


Tryin’ Like the Devil – review

Thursday at the Greenhouse at the Cove
San Antonio Express News

by Hector Saldaña
An important figure in the birth of Outlaw Country Music, Talley was touted by legendary record producers John Hammond and Jerry Wexler in his early days in the 1970s. His songs from that time, ”Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?” ”Give My Love to Marie” and ”Dixie Blue,” which mixed country, bluegrass, blues and renegade balladry, showed a range that veered from Ray Wilie Hubbard, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson to a gentler Glen Campbell and young John Denver approach. ”I write about people. As long as they don’t go out of style, I guess my music won’t go out of style,” said Talley in a 1978 TV special. Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson and Moby have recorded his songs. A rare treat in an intimate setting.

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10 Country Albums Rolling Stone Loved in the 1970s You Never Heard

We praised them 40 years ago — and you should listen to them today!

James Talley, ‘Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, but We Sure Got a Lot of Love’

A brilliant Nashville gambit: James Talley bartered his carpentry skills for studio time, and got some of the town’s best session musicians to donate their skills. He pressed a small run of the resulting album before a major label picked it up, and it proved to be an old-school classic, kicking off a four-decade career that also saw him playing guitar with B.B. King and being covered by Moby.

What We Said Then: ”Talley is obviously steeped in the rural tradition. He owes a great deal to Jimmie Rodgers and the Oklahoma-Texas string bands of the Thirties and Forties. . .he does a good job of evoking the era when unique string bands like the Doughboys would set up on a flatbed truck, hand out biscuits, and play all afternoon in the sun. It’s a musical and cultural simplicity that’s been missing from country music and, in a sense, harkens back to Depression music.” — Chet Flippo, RS 196 (September 25th, 1975)

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Good Friends Beer & Records – Chapel Hill, NC
January 5, 2014

by Ben Clack
Occupying sonic territory somewhere between Bob Wills and John Prine, James Talley has carved out a career unfettered by the Nashville machine, releasing relatively undiscovered records that speak of the American experience in the way only an Okie dust bowl born son of a Nuclear Plant technician can.

Born in Tulsa, OK in late 1943, he lived for a bit in Washington state but ultimately settled in New Mexico. While in school Talley trained as a fine artist before packing up for Nashville in 1968, at the encouragement of a passing through town Pete Seeger. Kicked around in Nashville, where he paid the bills as a Dept. of Human Services caseworker, he found shelter in trips to New York City seeking the mentorship of the legendary John Hammond Sr. (who launched the careers of Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Arthur Russell among many others).

Initially Talley was rejected by Columbia Records, then was signed to the doomed Atlantic Records Nashville before ultimately landing on Capitol Records, where he created the four albums which define his career- a body of work staunchly at odds with nearly everything else occurring in the popular music of the era. Combining an effortless ability to breathe life into the characters that inhabited his narrative world of song, with a musicality immersed in classic soul, country and the fiddles-on-fire Western swing of the aforementioned Wills, Talley created a canon of song that spoke of the old America: a world of vast landscapes and small towns, an agrarian fantasy connected through the hum and glow of radio tubes.

”Many a dream is dead and gone like the cowboy and his song, since I loved you on that old Red River shore”
– James Talley ”Red River Memory”

I first came across the stone classic Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got A Lot Of Love in a pile of donated radio promo LPs and jukebox 45s at a Habitat for Humanity Restore. Grabbing the record for one dollar on the merit of the minimalist design and name alone, I had no idea what I was bringing home. Within the first 30 seconds of the first track ”W. Lee O’Daniel and the Light Crust Dough Boys” I felt a feverish, possessive sort of excitement.

Conceptually as daring as his former Atlantic labelmate Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger (also released in 1975, although Got No Bread… was recorded in 1973) Got No Bread… is a sparkling companion to Nelson’s masterwork. It’s equally as full of cowboys and open spaces as it is full of the bliss of companionship and the ideal of family. Most remarkably on ”To Get Back Home” he states something of an ethos in a high tenor: ”You know its hard to get back home, to see things die that you once loved so”, lamenting the loss of love and the passing of a generation.

Talley followed Got No Bread… with Tryin’ Like the Devil and Blackjack Choir, each of which are works of beauty equal to their predecessor. Both possess varied musicality (Tubas! Dobros! Pedal Steel!) and a high warble dotting the character sketches with the dirt and dust of the world weary. In 1977 he released his final work for Capitol, Ain’t It Something, incorporating elements of New Orleans second line into the well articulated western swing, honky tonk and folk influences that defined his sound. Well ahead of his time once again, Talley presaged honky tonk moving on into new forms.

The 1980s found Talley releasing two seldom heard albums on the German Bear Family label, culminating in the release of Road to Torreon, a book of photography of New Mexican villages, featuring songs recorded and conceived before the writing and recording of Got No Bread….

In 1999 Talley started up his own label, Cimarron Records, that saw to the loving restoration of his catalog. Nearly all of his recorded work is available on CD from Talley directly, and most of the Capitol records are deep in the stacks of record stores worldwide, waiting to be found, often for less than $15. He is still active in Nashville, has performed twice at the White House for Jimmy Carter and in recent years has seen his work covered by artists as diverse as Moby and Johnny Cash.

In an era of long-tail economics and in light of the recent reissue campaigns of the Nashville noir of Mickey Newbury, James Talley’s most important work is waiting patiently for rediscovery. It’s Red River memories, and crickets outside the door; imminently relatable and part of the great American thing.

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James Talley in Concert
Tacoma Public Library, Tacoma, WA
November 26, 2012
James Talley in concert
Monday, November 26 @ 7 p.m.
Olympic Room, Main Library

James Talley is an Oklahoma born folk-country-blues singer/songwriter, whose career now spans over forty years. His name has been mentioned alongside Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan, and praised for the quality of his songwriting and his wise, expressive voice. Noted author and music critic, Peter Guralnick has said of James’ work, ”There are few singer-songwriters who could produce a collection of such magnitude coupled at the same time with such lightness, beauty, and all-out social conscience. Woody Guthrie never wrote a more direct or affecting song than ”Richland, Washington”; Bruce Springsteen never wrote a more powerful one than ”Tryin’ Like the Devil.”

James performed twice at The White House for President Jimmy Carter, and at the Smithsonian Institution, and in other concert venues around the United States and in Europe. B.B. King played guitar on James third album, Blackjack Choir, in 1976, marking the first time the legendary bluesman had ever recorded in Nashville. Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Alan Jackson, Hazel Dickens, the late Gene Clark, and most recently Moby, among others, have recorded his songs.

Music author David McGee has called James Talley’s work startlingly original. Legendary music producer, Jerry Wexler, who remained friends with James until his death, said, ”You remain for me one of America’s greatest songwriters.” CMT columnist, Chet Flippo, called him ”one of the best singer-songwriters to ever come out of Nashville.” Learn more about James at

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James Talley at The Blue Door
Blue Door – Oklahoma City
October 23, 2012

by Greg Johnson
James Talley has always been a working class hero songwriter, meaning he never has stopped writing about real people and their struggles and hopes. I am a real fan and few writers have had as much an impact on country music in the seventies as has James – he is that good – His classic debut ”Got No Bread No Milk No Money” and the followup ”Tryin Like The Devil” are considered modern folk/country classics and more recently ”Nashville City Blues,” ”The Road To Torreon” and ”Woody Guthrie Songs Of My Oklahoma Home” position Talley as one of the best songwriters working today. In 1999 I wrote in Oklahoma Today that James Talley is one of the most important recording artists in Oklahoma history and that hasn’t changed.
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Heartsong – James Talley
Nuts About

by George Peden
“I have always seen myself as an artist, not just an entertainer. I am more comfortable in blue jeans and a flannel shirt than in rhinestones and sequins.“ James Talley from his liner notes.

There is a quality to the music of James Talley. It’s a quiet and honest style. It comes with a lyrical veneer, which rightly has Talley tagged as an Americana pioneer. It’s a style, perfected over a time span counted in decades rather than years. For the fans, and there are many, Talley continues his simple and observational look at life, love, God and the American way with his latest, Heartsong. And, just like his earlier and heralded back catalogue, it doesn’t disappoint. The reason is simple enough. The album has a heart and it has soul.

“I am first and foremost a writer,” says this Oklahoma born troubadour. And across this album – his first new project in 10 years – his 16 life-soaked tracks lend positive fact to the claim. There’s no Nashville conveyor belt urgency to the writing here; rather, Tally does as he’s always done – he delivers music that is blessed as being inspirational and intuitive.

As he tells in his liner notes, “My inspiration has always come from the people, from their lives, their struggles – of which there are many… it’s often late in our lives before we truly learn what is really important and of value.”

To précis this album: It’s comes finely crafted with Talley’s rich and emotive baritone, pulled together into a prized and listenable piece of work. But the richer reward for the discerning listener will rest in repeated playing, as it’s there the music, the writing, the shade and toning, and Talley’s keen ear and eye of what really matters comes revealed.

“They Can’t Kill Love” is a catalogue of human efforts to change the will of man, but as Talley shares, love may be tested but it can’t be discarded. It’s much like the universal family truth: “When Mamma Ain’t Happy” then nobody is happy. The fiddle-rich tale of the good life when your mother is beaming highlights, again, the clean and sharp playing of the well-chosen and seasoned players in the band.

Tally has been making music, deep, spirited and ponderous since 1975. That lyrical trademark is evident again here. “Are They Really Different?” is a paused and tempered tune. It looks at the universal possibilities that people everywhere share the passions, hopes and dreams that bond the human spirit.

But to analyse Talley’s Heartsong, track by track, is wasted respect to this fine and talented performer. My take, my feel, my view on the lyrical storytelling is exactly that – my take. You need your own experience. When you listen to tracks like the keen and atmospheric “Santa Fe Blues”, or the bluesy “Cold Blooded Killers”, with it’s tale of significant deceit and treachery, or the ache of a love lost on “When It Was A Love Affair” you hear a talent with a message. It’s a message not so much for the masses, but rather for individuals prepared to listen.

Tally’s music, like his well-told tunes, is stylish and individual. If you want open and honest music that will take the test of time, if you want an artist, not just a performer, look to Heartsong and James Talley. A deserved double thumbs up from me. It is out now on Cimarron Records.
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50 Underestimated Masterpieces
Rolling Stone – Germany
May 2010

by Wolfgang Doebeling
Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got A Lot Of Love: Only the complete title of the album does justice to the warmth, the wisdom and the inner beauty the listener is presented with so richly. On the surface James Talley’s Country-Folk-Blues is just that, marvelously played by great musicians like fiddle player Johnny Gimble, but there is more to it; deep respect for nature, social concern, and a sense for justice. Talley sings for the little farmer, the working man, the day laborer … Jimmy Carter, invited the philanthropist from Oklahoma to the White House. Find comfort in ”Red River Memory” and revel in images and thoughts.
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Reviews – From France
Le Cry du Coyote
June-July 2009

by Bernard Boyat
JAMES TALLEY : The Journey – The Second Voyage En peu de temps, James Talley, un des rares auteurs/ compositeurs basés à Nashville sans compromission commerciale, nous a gratifi és de 2 nouveaux superbes CD. L!un enregistré en public en Italie, où il se produit souvent (pourquoi pas chez nous ?) Nashville et Floresville, Texas, et mêle nouveaux titres de gros calibre (Hear that lonesome whistle blow, de la bonne Country enlevée) à des succès confi rmés comme la très mélodieuse ballade Country Folk Calico Gypsy, extraite du 1er LP de 1975, qui se trouvait en bonne place dans la discothèque de Jimmy Carter, ce qui lui valut des invitations à chanter à la Maison Blanche et d”être mentionné dans le bouquin Lost Highway de Peter Guralnick. Et lorsqu”on constate à quel point son vocal de baryton est chaud, qu”il a le chic pour concocter des mélodies moelleuses et trousser des textes poétiques, comme Tom Russell savait le faire avant de prendre la grosse tête, on se dit qu”il est un peu passé à côté d”une belle carrière. Mais, aurait-il conservé son authenticité ? Eternel débat. A son habitude, James mélange Country Folk et Blues, un peu comme son modèle Woody Guthrie, pour de très belles ballades, dont certaines (Someone who loves you, Deep Country Blues, Little Egypt land) sont vraiment superbes et, chose moins fréquente chez lui, une bonne pincée de morceaux plus musclés : le Country Rock léger Open all night, le plus appuyé Down on the corner et les Country Rockin” lues Forty hours et Nashville City Blues. (BB) Cimarron CIM 1013

JAMES TALLEY : Heartsong – Depuis huit ans, James se complaisait surtout à reprendre ses classiques en public, à compiler d”anciens albums ou à enregistrer un album hommage (à Guthrie). Le voilà, enfi n, avec de nouvelles compos, toujours dans les mêmes veines musicales et inspiratrices, entre chansons d”amour (le medium North Dakota girl et les superbes ballades I will come to you et Song for Shiloh, dédié à son chien), commentaire social (les ballades They can!t kill love et Are they really different, Santa Fe Blues, superbes celles-là, Whiskey and beer, bluesy, ou le Country Rock The girls from Kelowna), politique (le Blues lent Cold blooded killers, une charge contre l”industrie de l”armement et les hommes politiques qui déclanchent des confl its sous de fallacieux prétextes) ou religieux (The most infl uential teacher, très antifondamentaliste). Et, musicalement, ce CD comporte une surprise inattendue avec un When mama ain!t happy, un Hillbilly Bop comme Guthrie savait aussi en faire. Peut-être qu”il nous en mettra plus sur le prochain album et qu”il ne faudra pas attendre huit ans pour entendre de nouvelles compositions… (BB) Cimarron CIM 1014
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