Reams shares some of his vision for his music in the album notes, chronicling challenges in health issues and homelessness among other things. He weaves these themes through the album both in original tunes and well chosen song stories of the people and places that make up the fabric of life.
One of the originals “I am a Stranger Here” could have come from the Woody Guthrie songbook, the lyrics flow easy, painting a picture, telling a story and even preaching a little without ever getting preachy or overbearing. That’s a tricky road to walk and many writers either pound you over the head with a sermon or get too complex but a good writer knows how to tell the story simply, maybe give the listener a nudge or two, but ultimately let the listen make their own meaning of the song.
The Woody Guthrie reference is apt in at least one other way. I think you can classify this album (if you like to classify music) as urban bluegrass. Many think of bluegrass and folk music as being a rural art form with songs about cabins on hillsides in the mountain hollers, but Woody Guthrie wrote one of the greatest songs of the wide expanse of the American countryside from an apartment in New York City. Most of the songs on this album are set in cities or take on modern concerns and issues. I appreciated this, and think it gives the album some more credibility.
Not that we have to live in one-room cabins to sing about those old folks at home, but when I listen to yet another new album filled with songs about those old Georgia hills I do wonder if you can write bluegrass songs about this day and age, songs that walk concrete streets in cities, songs that might come from the front page instead of a history book. This album proves that you can do that, and make it work just fine.
I alluded to the fine playing earlier and should mention that once again, not only the fast picking you expect but also some great and unexpected arrangements including the vocals and upright bass gospel funky groove of “Lord Lead the Way”.
Invite James Reams and the Barnstormers over to your place by playing their latest CD, like a visit with an old friend you’ll hear some wonderful stories that somehow manage to be new and different while still being familiar and friendly.