Review – Possesed By Paul James “Feed The Family”

September 15, 2010 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  20 Comments

After listening to Justin Townes Earle’s new one, this is exactly what I needed. I said about that one that it had no soul. With a Possessed by Paul James song, the soul is where the song begins; soul is where it is built from–not an infectious rhythm or a guitar riff, or an inspiration from another song. All Possessed songs are wholly original, or the illusion that they are original is strong enough that even this tragic audiofile is not strong enough puncture it.

Possessed is a master song crafter no matter what angle you analyze the song from: writing, musicianship, vocal performance, arrangement. These are the songs everyone else wishes they could write. Possessed is a poet like Townes Van Zandt, but unlike Townes, the music isn’t an afterthought, it is an integral part of the song that melds flawlessly with the themes and words into a cohesive presentation that melts the hearts and speaks to the soul. Possessed decides to write a song like deciding to have a child–only moving forward if it can be assured a nurturing, loving environment and 100% commitment.

In some of his songs the ambiguity of the lyrics allows them to hit your brain and bend to your own life’s experiences and needs. It’s like a cure all. Normally in an album review I would list certain songs, talk about them, compare them with each other and other songs for other artists. I would pick out favorite tracks, and talk about the weak ones to prove my objectivity. But with Possessed this seems like folly. There are no weak tracks. And there are no strong tracks in the sense that saying this or that song is strong infers that others are less strong, when all of these songs seem impenetrable by criticism. It also helps that Possessed’s genre and style are so undefinable, yet so natural and familiar all the same, that nobody could claim to be an expert at scoring his music. So why try? Sit back and enjoy it. That is what it’s there for.

And the voice, my word. Possessed might be the best male singer that exists under the big music tent whose borders I police. There’s other great ones, but again cross comparisons don’t work because of Possessed’s raw uniqueness. The top range of his voice is sick, and his effortless vibrato is spellbinding and tauntingly unfair, especially when you consider the breadth of all his other talents.

I fully admit that Possessed’s music is not for everyone. There’s no catchy rhythms here or pop sensibilities. Accessibility is not one of its immediately-recognizable traits, though the music is certainly enjoyable on a very carnal level when approached with the right mindset. If you got a passing wiff, you might think this some banjo-rific hipster nonsense that is plaguing certain elements of the roots scene. This is rich, artsy, poetic stuff, but there’s balls and anger here too. Possessed gets preachy at times, but never to the point of pretentiousness. And then he counter-balances that confidence with reflective deprecation.

These songs do not tire easily. Their lyrics are vibrant yet nuanced too, and reveal new things with every listen, while little tricks with the fingerwork get picked up by the ear and unusual rhythms become infectious.

Lastly, but maybe most importantly, what Possessed brings to the table is pure, unchecked passion. Every song gets every ounce of energy, attention, love, and dedication that Possessed possesses, leaving nothing behind. Blind, rabid, berserk, eyes rolling up in the back of the head, stampeding buffalo herd passion. And if he can’t bring that passion, he rather not perform or write the song.

If I ran a folky roots-based website this would be an Album of the Year candidate. But I run a country website, and it is STILL an Album of the Year candidate, given pass-thru’s on qualifying points by its sheer quality.

And all of this from a part-time musician whose a full time teacher/social worker. Possessed certainly has the chops to be a full-time performer if he wanted to, but he’s chosen his path from a belief of what is best for his family, and because of a dedication to service that was instilled in his Menonite upbringing. I respect Possesessed’s decision, but I hope he understands that his music is a service as well; a touching, uplifiting, empowering experience that the world is a better place because of.

Two guns up!

Possessed by Paul James is Konrad Wert. Feed the Family is from Hillgrass Bluebilly Records.

Buy Feed The Family

20 Comments to “Review – Possesed By Paul James “Feed The Family””

  • Thanks man! I’ve got it in the headphones right now and you’ve nailed it. (once again)

  • Before this album came out, my mind was already made up that he couldn’t top his performance of “Shoulda Known Better” from The Folksinger. Now I can’t make up my mind which is my favorite. I do still like the version of “Colorofmybloodynose” from his self-titled release though.

    Regardless, this album is definitely my favorite of his three and it’s definitely spent it’s fair share of time in my cd player so far and will continue to do so.

    Sweet review man, and yeah, he is not for everyone I think but for those of us that get it, it’s pretty amazing.

    • Definitely “get it” crowd material.

      You should get a Gravatar, you comment enough here.

      • Gravatars ain’t county.

        • Nor are they country.

          • Come to think of it, the internet is not very country either.

  • Ahhhh. A man and his strings doin’ it just like that: soul exposed and void of needing approval. How can you stand still listenin’ to that first track? That’s 4:17 of gettin’ it.
    Great blog Triggerman.

  • wait wait wait! Townes’ music as an afterthought? Bullshit! Maybe his studio arrangements were a little overblown but you cannot deny how masterful his guitar playing was. His guitar had its own voice and disputing that is just being pompous.

    • Oh jeez, can’t say anything without raising a brow. I think Townes was the one that said about the his music that it was poetry, and all this music stuff kept getting in the way. That was the point I was trying to make. Townes was a good guitar player, nobody said any different.

  • Awesome stuff, I’m looking forward to picking this one up soon.

  • Just placed my order. I can’t get enough of this guy. Thanks for giving him so much attention on the site. I don’t know of any other place that would.

  • “Two guns up!”? WOW!…lets just agree to disagree on this one. No offense intended.

    • I’ve come to learn that the deep roots scene is not your thing Ojaioan, and that’s OK. I suspect you’re not alone. This stuff is an acquired taste.

  • I CAN’T WAIT TO GET IT! But once again I’m gonna wait for it and then read the review…can’t wait to do that either!

  • The guy sure seems like a nutcase when he’s performing. The fact he’s a school teacher is hilarious. I wonder if he gets real calm and professional when he’s at work, or if he’s just as crazy then.——————– Are his vocals more articulate on CD than in the top video?

    • All of his lyrics are articulate on the CD, this was just a good example of the energy he brings to the live performance and his picking skills.

      When I saw him live and interviewed him, he came across as one of those life-changing teachers that are so extremely rare these days unfortunately. He’s very personable and mild mannered. All I can say is that when he’s on stage he’s “possessed” by the songs he plays. I think I saw someone yesterday remark that it’s like watching him give birth to songs on stage.

      If you want to read the transcript or listen to the interview I did:

  • Great review. This dude brings tons of energy and creativity.

    Show me anyone like PPJ that completely puts every ounce of energy and soul and themself into their music and leaves it on the stage or studio, and I’d prolly dig it … if not, I’d definitely give it a listen out of appreciation.

  • [...] but recently I’ve reviewed albums from Reverend Deadeye and Hillgrass Bluebilly’s Possessed by Paul James. I know some of the more countrified folks may not get into this kind of music, and some of the [...]

  • I finally got to sit down and listen to this record. It’s truly amazing. I just have a few observations. There is either very little or no fiddle on the record, and also very little foot stomping. I realize that due to the implementation of drums in his songs, pretty much kills the need for foot stomping. Those happen to be two of my favorite things about PPJ. It still doesn’t change that it is a very good record. I just needed my fiddle fix, and some stompin’ and gruntin’.

  • Album of the year, hands down. Just found this site a few weeks ago, and been reading all your archives. You said somewhere that you don’t like writin reviews that much, since you don’t think anybody reads em, but fuck that man, keep em coming. I’d never heard of Mr. Wert before you wrote him up, and damned if he ain’t my new favorite band. This hasn’t left the stereo since it came outta the mail. Fuckin impeccable.

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