Press & Reviews
Review – James Talley – Bandits, Ballads and Blues
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2024 BY BILL WILCOX
I count myself a fan of Twangville as well as an occasional contributor. This is mainly because I often discover new music that I hadn’t heard before. But sometimes, Twangville reminds me of forgotten voices that I had embraced long ago.
When I was growing up in the Twin Cities, my older sister Peggy turned me onto a local radio station, KQRS, that was the epitome of Twangville long before the site was dreamed up by Mayer and Tom. KQ (until the late 70s when the station was sold to a corporate conglomerate that controlled all the content) had an open platform in which the DJs played the music they liked. There was classic rock like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but I also got to know the likes of artists as diverse as John Prine, David Bromberg, John Hartford, Loudon Wainwright III, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Leo Kottke, John Lee Hooker, Weather Report, and even more obscure artists like Sammy Walker (another one I rediscovered when Mayer featured him on Monday Morning Videos) and Steve Tibbets (whose original label was literally called “Obscure Records”). I spent countless hours listening to KQ’s unique programming, which included the nationally syndicated “King Biscuit Flour Hour” and also it’s own “Windowpane Acitate Hour,” in which they played a new album release straight through (with me, of course, taping it all).
“Bandits, Ballads and Blues”
Du Côté de chez Sam, par Sam Pierre
Cinquante ans après son premier album, quinze ans après Heartsong, James Talley, quatre-vingts ans, est de retour avec un album (son quinzième), intitulé Bandits, Ballads and Blues. L’homme est modeste et ne fait pas la une des magazines, mais il fait partie des grands songwiters de de dernier demi-siècle. La vie l’a fait voyager de l’Oklahoma, où il est né, à Nashville en passant par Washington et le Nouveau Mexique, et cela s’entend dans ses mélodies et orchestrations. Le disque commence avec The Lovesong Of Billy The Kid avec l’accordéon de Jeff Taylor et l’on retrouve une ambiance qui fleure bon la frontière du Mexique un peu plus loin, pour une autre histoire de hors-la-loi, The Hanging Of “Black Jack” Ketchum. Les considérations sociales et humanistes sous-tendent la plupart des textes, comme dans If We Could Love One Another ou Jesus Wasn’t A Capitalist. Il y a encore For Those Who Can’t, dédiée à un ancien voisin de James au New Mexique, et à travers lui, à tous les jeunes de sa génération dont la vie a été bouleversée par la guerre du Vietnam. On ne peut pas être insensible à la tendresse qui se dégage de certains titres. Somewhere In The Stars est dédié à Diego, le compagnon canin de James et The Dreamer à son père. Quant à You Always Look Good In Red, c’est une chanson d’amour pour Jan, l’épouse de James. Je peux encore citer Christmas On The Rio Grande ou encore le dernier titre, For Sumner Blues. Un mot sur les musiciens: le disque est produit par le bassiste Dave Pomeroy (déjà présent pour The Road To Torreón en 1992) qui a recruté les excellents Doyle Grisham (guitare acoustique et pedal steel), Billy Contreras (fiddle), Mike Noble (guitares acoustique et électrique), Jeff Taylor (accordéon, piano et orgue Hammond), Mark Beckett (batterie) et Andrew Carne (trompette). Ajoutons-y les harmonies des McCrary Sisters et de Jason Kyle Saetvelt), et nous obtenons l’un des tous meilleurs disques de James Talley, celui, en tout cas, qui m’a le plus touché.
REVIEW: James Talley “Bandits, Ballads & Blues”
January 17, 2024 – John Apice0
James Talley – Bandits, Ballads & Blues
This set is a little more planted in tradition. It’s done with a classy splash of sincerity, toe-tapping originality & the expressive warm voice of Tulsa, Oklahoma-bred James Talley (acoustic guitar). A little on the old legendary cowboy side but with the rawness & originality of a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott too. The music itself dips generously into country balladry; Tex-Mex & each tune is well-crafted.
What could come across as hokey is that Talley sings with more optimism than most singers. I don’t think that’s hokey at all. There’s lots of hope strung through these tunes like Christmas lights at a juke-joint. It looks out of place, yet it may just be what’s needed.
12 fortified tunes fill Bandits, Ballads & Blues (Dropped Jan. 15–Cimarron Records/51-minutes) produced by Dave Pomeroy (basses) & Earwave Productions. With songs like “Jesus Wasn’t a Capitalist,” it sounds like a rant but it isn’t. It’s true, Jesus wasn’t a Capitalist (he wasn’t a fascist or Socialist either) & he wasn’t materialistic, wasn’t a racist, wasn’t a Wall Street banker. He was that simple man of labor that modern-day man seems to have a challenge with. But Talley sings it with honesty, not naivete.
Talley’s got a 15-album repertoire & has recorded since 1973 beginning with Capitol Records. I’d normally say an artist like Talley should still be signed to a major for distribution & marketing. But after what I saw happen to late-career Johnny Cash when he jumped the Columbia Records ship for American Recordings, I think James Talley may be better off controlling his own musical destiny.
With songs like “The Hanging of ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum,” Talley steps into the role of narrator. His voice is perfect for such tales. He’s not as satire-driven or humorous as John Prine or Roger Miller but he has a character that seeps through his songs. May even be in that Jon Dee Graham mold at times.
Talley tries to give his folky music messages without losing an audience. Not everyone will agree with his position but there’s nothing here that’s spikey. It’s all navigated with care. And it’s entertaining. Some tunes explore human emotion, but also the human condition. James Talley is there with authority.
Highlights – “The Lovesong of Billy the Kid,” “If We Could Love One Another,” “Jesus Wasn’t a Capitalist,” “My Little Corner of the World,” “The Hanging of Black Jack” Ketchum,” “Somewhere In the Stars” & “You Always Look Good In Red.”
Musicians – Doyle Grisham (acoustic & pedal steel guitars), Mike Noble (acoustic & electric guitars), Billy Contreras (fiddle), Jeff Taylor (accordion/piano/Hammond organ), Mark Beckett (drums), Andrew Carney (trumpet), Regina, Ann & Alfreda McCrary, Jason Kyle Saetveit (bgvs).
A 16-pp color stitched insert is included. All songs & the B&W image courtesy of James Talley. CD @ fye
THE READING ROOM: James Talley Weighs Music and Meaning in ‘Nashville City Blues’ Memoir
Henry Carrigan – January 25, 2024 – No Depression – https://www.nodepression.com/
In 2000, Oklahoma-born singer and songwriter James Talley released an album called Nashville City Blues on his label, Cimarron Records. In the title track, he tells a defiant yet poignant tale of his experience in a town where “the music, it don’t mean a thing / It’s all about the money that’s made.” In the song’s first verse, Talley sings: “I’ve watched the deal go down / I’ve written every kind of song, sung every kind of tune / Been treated every kind of way, I’ve had every kind of blues.” Talley’s portrait of the struggle between commerce and artistry could just as easily have been written today, of course, as songwriters continue to flock to an Oz-like empire in search of the man behind the curtain who will present them with the key to the Emerald City.
Although Talley never rose to a household name among country music fans, he became — like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and Woody Guthrie — a songwriter’s songwriter, trying to capture the ups and downs of human experience in his songs. In his entertaining autobiography, Nashville City Blues: My Journey as an American Songwriter, published last March, Talley, in his conversational style, invites readers into his stories of struggles and triumphs in Nashville and in the music business.
James Talley-Ballads Bandits & Blues Review
Jeff Berger – January 19, 2024 – Americana Highways – https://americanahighways.org/
James Talley, Bandits, Ballads and Blues. Folk singer/songwriter James Talley’s underappreciated sophomore release, Tryin’ Like the Devil, got a second shot at the spotlight when a 40th-anniversary edition came out a few years ago. And now we have Bandits, Ballads and Blues—his first new LP since 2008 and only the 15th of his half-century-long career—which may be his best effort to date. In various ways, Talley recalls such artists as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and John Prine, all of whom would likely have loved this album’s music as well as its take on humankind.
Featuring backup by seven top-notch Nashville musicians who add instruments that include accordion, trumpet, and fiddle, the exquisitely crafted CD serves up evocative and imaginative self-penned lyrics, indelible melodies, and warm, distinctive vocal work. There’s not a bad track on the record but highlights include “The Lovesong of Billy the Kid,” a south-of-the-border-flavored tale of the outlaw that’s told from his perspective; “You Always Look Good in Red,” a tribute to Talley’s wife; and “The Dreamer (A Song for My Father).”
“Wall Street Journal – Nashville City Blues” Review: James Talley, Country’s Outcast
His bracing songs tapped into a Woody Guthrie-like vision of America. The music industry turned its back. – Eddie Dean
In 1975, an oddball country album called “Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love” appeared in Nashville and made a big stir in music circles far beyond. Everything about it—from its unwieldy title to its eclectic take on traditional country to its cover photo of a scruffy young man and his pregnant wife and their toddler in front of a rural grocery store—set it apart from Music City’s generic product.
Whereas most country songs were set in Anywhere, U.S.A., this ambitious song cycle conveyed a keen sense of place. Written, produced and performed by a second-generation Okie named James Talley, the record took listeners to Mehan, a hamlet near Stillwater, Okla., and other spots “as far back in that country as you can stick a butcher-knife,” as Mr. Talley put it in the title song. Here was Og, a tobacco-chewing farmer, and blue-eyed Ruth, and an old railroad man who’s now the town wino—all kith and kin from Mr. Talley’s early years.
The got-no-bread title was barely a stretch. By the mid-1970s, Mr. Talley had gone broke making the self-financed album. By chance, his day job as a carpenter had him remodeling the Nashville home of Frank Jones, the head of Capitol Records’ country-music division; Mr. Talley gave Jones a copy, one of 1,000 he had custom-printed and -pressed featuring his young family on the cover. It led to a record deal, though his major-label album debut barely made a ripple in Music City. But rock critics, drawn to the songs’ progressive Woody Guthrie vibe, compared it to the elegiac, back-to-the-land imagery of The Band and hailed the album as a classic. Despite the hype, it was a commercial dud.
Three later Capitol albums earned more praise and expanded Mr. Talley’s cult following. Among his ardent fans were President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn, who invited him to perform at the White House. But a hit record never happened. Country music in the 1970s was going mainstream, so a backwater outlaw from the boonies—unless he was named Waylon or Willie—was a tough sell. By the end of the decade, Mr. Talley had disappeared from the record industry, his albums out of print.
Now 79, Mr. Talley has re-emerged with a memoir outlining the long career of a populist artist who has never reached a popular audience. “Nashville City Blues” is as straightforward, understated and affecting as Mr. Talley’s true-life songs, which have been covered by performers from Johnny Cash to Moby. The book is also a field guide for any outsider without connections or prospects who wonders how to persevere despite long odds and plenty of bad luck and bad choices.
Raised in Albuquerque, Mr. Talley had a creative bent for music and drawing and earned a fine-arts degree from the University of New Mexico. A line in a Guthrie book—”the paint on your tractor is pretty to me”—helped him to see beauty in the everyday and to realize that songwriting in Guthrie’s documentarian tradition could be a path for him. “There is an artistic approach to life,” Mr. Talley writes of his epiphany. “I knew a policeman in Albuquerque, who by the way he talked with people, with such intelligence and understanding, he was an artist.”
Mr. Talley began to write songs about the indigent Hispanic people he met as a welfare caseworker in Albuquerque and nearby villages. It was the stark, guitar-and-vocal demos of songs like “Ramon Esteban” and “Does Anybody Know Why Ana Maria’s Mama Is Crying?” that he peddled around Nashville in 1968, when he moved there at age 24—not to be a star, he writes, but to find an audience.
A publishing bigwig on Music Row praised the singing but said the songs sounded more like “sociology” than hit singles. Working his day job for Nashville’s rat-control division, Mr. Talley got surprise encouragement from Columbia Records producer John Hammond in New York, but a proposed project stalled. Then his music caught the ear of producer Jerry Wexler, who gave Mr. Talley an advance. This sum helped him make the “No Bread” album (“centered around my family and where I came from,” he writes) and led to the multirecord deal with Capitol.
Mr. Talley’s 1976 follow-up, “Tryin’ Like the Devil,” featured one of his best-known songs, “Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?,” in which he compared the travails of Americans of the mid-’70s barely scraping by with the Depression-era, bank-robbing Pretty Boy Floyd championed by Guthrie. For the album’s cover, Mr. Talley stood with fellow carpenters next to his beat-up ’64 Chevy pick-up; for his third LP, “Blackjack Choir,” he sat on a bench alongside black co-workers from the rat-control division.
The new material had him widening his palette, both in the music, now imbued with blues and gospel, and in its subject matter, with finely limned portraits of outcasts: e.g., “Give My Love to Marie,” about a miner dying of black lung. This kind of unflinching tale—the songwriter Townes Van Zandt once told Mr. Talley that it “got me through the winter” during a low point—was far afield from the cheating-and-drinking formula of most country music. Mr. Talley’s refusal to adapt hurt his commercial appeal.
After his fourth LP, “Ain’t It Somethin’,” tanked in 1977, Mr. Talley was persuaded by a shady manager to leave Capitol in hopes of a better deal, but offers never came. He was blackballed by the label, which deleted his albums from its catalog, and his career “cratered.” He admits that it was his mistake and blames himself for the strain it put on his family. During this stretch, there were near-misses, such as a film project with author Larry McMurtry about the pollution caused by coal-fired power plants in Montana. It would be nearly a decade before Mr. Talley’s next album, “American Originals,” appeared, and it came out on a German label.
For a long stretch starting in the early ’80s, even as Mr. Talley remained in Nashville raising his family, he quit music to work as a realtor. The steady income helped him re-start his performing career, and in 1999 he released two new albums, including a Woody Guthrie tribute. He has toured sporadically, too, especially in Europe, where he enjoys a loyal fan base.
This Music City saga ends with good news for aficionados. After years of legal wrangling, Mr. Talley was able to regain the rights to the long-unavailable Capitol records, which he holds dear as his “creative children.” The first two have been reissued in anniversary editions on CD, and the second two are available for streaming. “My songs didn’t just appear out of the ether,” he writes. “They came from somewhere. I worked for them and earned them. They came from my life, from everything I’ve seen, felt, and touched.” His remembrances have the same feel of honest and original work hammered from experience and empathy, built to last.
— Mr. Dean is co-author of “Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times” by Dr. Ralph Stanley.
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
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 – Rambles.net 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.
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)
RED RIVER MEMORIES: JAMES TALLEY’S OLD AMERICA
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.
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 www.JamesTalley.com
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 Country.com
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
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
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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