It will be interesting to see how many magazines and websites run a review of this album with the title “Finding Nemo.” Hopefully none, as Nemo James is more deserving. A successful session guitarist for years and years, James is also an acclaimed author having published a well-received autobiography titled Just a Few Seconds.
Along the way, he took a 12-year break from playing guitar professionally, but has returned with a solo album called The Minstrel. His timing couldn’t be better as the likes of singer/songwriters Hozier, George Ezra, and Frank Turner have been doing well in the U.K. and European charts these days.
James though is a little less BBC Radio 1 and more BBC Radio 2 or 6 Music for those familiar with those UK radio stations. In America, he’s less top-40 and more AAA or adult contemporary. iTunes thinks he’s country, but he is not. If anything, it’s more folk but with a hint of pop.
The opener, “Dreamer on the Run,” at first doesn’t seem like the best choice for a power cut, but the second time through it’s clear that this was a good choice after all. A simple but effective opener, it’s a soft open. “The Poet,” which follows, is also immediately appealing and features subtle piano, flugal horn, and string work. It’s catchy chorus transfers the listener straight back to the ‘70s in a good way. The title track continues the journey back into the ‘70s oscillating between James Taylor and Jim Croce, again with a great melody, especially in the chorus. Elsewhere, Gordon Lightfoot is recalled.
James offers 17 songs in this collection, quite unusual in 2015 when many people are instead releasing four or five-song EPs. While the songs are mostly built around acoustic guitar, he manages to keep it varied with adding subtle nuances like the aforementioned horns, strings, and keys.
There really isn’t a dud in the lot, although it does appear to be front-loaded, but that’s likely been done to appeal to radio and more commercial interests, which is fine. Hopefully that strategy, if it was indeed a conscious one, will bring him a wider audience.
9 Stars out of 10
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.