Steal yourself for the roller coaster of emotional moments and life-altering epiphanies that often accompany any foray into a recorded effort or live performance by the one man musical marvel known by the name Possessed by Paul James. Often referred to as more of a spiritual or religious experience as opposed to simple a musical presentation, you leave the company of the expressions of Possessed by Paul James a changed person, cleansed and recharged to meet the challenges of life, both personal and external.
It’s at the quenching end of a severe drought in recorded output that Possessed by Paul James’s latest record As We Go Wandering arrives to feed famished ears—his first since 2013’s There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely. But this isn’t due to sloth. Possessed by Paul James is not just one to preach about trying to change the world in pedantic songs looking to seize upon popular sentiments of the time. A Special Education teacher and administrator who by day goes by the name Konrad Wert, he’s been slaving away in the classroom for the less fortunate for years, and weekend warrioring with the music thing when he can. Worries over vocal chord issues also sidelined him from recording and performance for a while.
Whatever winding road it took to get here, As We Go Wandering finds Possessed by Paul James reprising his role as one of the most unique and inspiring performers out there in music today. Certainly roots-based in style by leaning on his adept skills as a fiddle, viola, banjo, and guitar player, he doesn’t fit anywhere in the music landscape snugly, but finds appeal to all those with hearts open to music that is written well, and delivered with a passion incomparable. Possessed by Paul James is less a performer, and more a medium for the spirits of loved ones and ancestors ever-present around us, but always just out of reach.
Ample offerings to add to Konrad’s catalogue of memorable works are included in As We Go Wandering, and right off the bat. “Come Back In My Mind” speaks to the very seance-like evocation that makes Possessed by Paul James so special. “In The Dark of Morning” and “I’m So Good At Absolutely Nothing” are examples of the deep vulnerability PPJ is able to express, but always with a consoling and wise prospectus about how all tends to work out with faith in one’s self and the loved ones we surround ourselves with.
It’s really Possessed by Paul James’s mastery of melody, and his prowess at fingerpicking that draw the audience near and render them deeply attentive, allowing the words and moments to slip past the gargoyles of even the most guarded of hearts. Even though there’s plenty of epiphanies to be had on As We Go Wandering, it’s a classic tale of fear of infidelity told in the song “Your White Stained Dress” that might mark the greatest offering from the record. Here, melody meets story in a way where the appeal becomes universal, while other moments may be a little too wild to be good entry points into the magic of what Possessed by Paul James is all about.
Some may question the wisdom of re-recording one of his signature songs “When It Breaks” that comes from his 2010 album Feed The Family. But the update is a fine rendition, and makes for a good cross reference for a film that also accompanies the new record called When It Breaks, produced by Todd Tue of Milk Products Media. Following Konrad and his family around when he decided to take a year off of teaching and travel the country in an RV to play music and spread the word about the challenges affecting special education, it’s actually the second film made about the Southwest Florida native who was raised by Mennonites. In 2008, Konrad was the primary cast member of the film The Folk Singer, speaking to just how much Possessed by Paul James has inspired other creators, including ones who are willing to focus their efforts on him.
A couple of the moments in the second half of As We Go Wandering do feel slightly undercooked. “Dance With Me Tonight” has been one of the more rousing offerings from Possessed by Paul James live over the last few years, but it struggles to find the proper context in the studio environment. Since Konrad’s songs all involve a good amount of altering and improvisation, capturing him in the studio is a special challenge, but As We Go Wandering gets it mostly right. You could also see him improving by working in more story into some of his message-based songs like “Be At Rest” as opposed to being so direct, and veering slightly into the territory of being trite. But throughout this record, there’s a great pentameter to the music with the help of his musical collaborators who bring some more body to these songs than the live versions.
Seeing Possessed by Paul James live will always be the most advantageous environment to revel in the infectious and other-worldly sway of his music and performance, where you see the sweat pouring from his brow, and behold the way the man channels emotions and energies into the human vessel in a way that most of us are too afraid or inhibited to attempt. But As We Go Wandering is yet another impressive offering to place within the Possessed by Paul James canon that will hopefully breed many more. Because the world needs more Possessed by Paul James.
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