Probably the best thing about the production by David Travers-Smith (Wailin' Jennys, Deerhoof) is that you never notice it. There is no "room" or anything layered in or added until the closing "Ghost," where James plugs in and stacks tracks on top of each other to suggest the ethereal quality of the song's namesake. It's not "raw," but rather a direct pipeline to what it is Samuel James has to say.
It's like listening to an interior monologue sometimes. "Turkish Curse" is a driving force of notes, but James's vocals are almost off-hand. "You can tear, and you can scratch, at the bindings/But those motherfuckers are built to last," James offers as observation while he plays a cycling repetition like watching the solar system spin and each planet ringing at a different pitch as it flies by.
And then there is "Rocket Man," James doing John and Taupin. You'd hardly know it was the same song, so much akin to everything else on the album, the words you know so well tumbling out of James's mouth like a ball rolling down a cobblestone street. It's hard to even call it a cover. He's taken the song and just subsumed it.
"Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids" — and neither is the where (and when) from which Samuel James's songs originate.
AND FOR THE DARK ROAD AHEAD | Released by Samuel James | on Northernblues Music | with Sontiago + dilly dilly + Zach Jones + Henry Jamison + Meantone + D Gross + Darien Brahms + Amanda Gervasi + Max Garcia Conover + Atomic Trash | at SPACE Gallery, in Portland | Oct 20 | therealsamueljames.com