Jemima James,
Book Me Back in Your Dreams
(Labor, 2007)

Although you wouldn't know it from the press she gets, the most interesting thing about singer-songwriter Jemima James is not the fact that her great-grandfather was the cutting-edge psychologist and major American philosopher William James. Neither is it the fact that novelist Henry James was her great uncle.

No, what is interesting -- remarkable, actually -- about Jemima James is her voice, a big, throaty and husky instrument that sounds as though it has been roughened by hard living. Put her plaintive voice against a background of acoustic guitars, a moaning harmonica and a piano, as happens here, and you've got something that immediately strikes you as the truth.

The sense of authenticity that James brings to her songs is striking. Listening, you have no doubt that she has lived the words she's singing, that the music she writes comes from a place deep in her soul. You can hear the experience in her voice. She's a little too fond of the 12-bar blues form and hasn't found a way to make it sound fresh and new yet; her blues songs tend to sound alike, as well as too predictable, but she makes up for that with songs like "Walk All Over Georgia," a duet with harmonica ace George Higgs.

It takes a couple of hearings to get into Book Me Back in Your Dreams. It's an album that unfolds its treasures on repeat listenings Unlike so many albums that give you everything they've got on first hearing and don't hold up after that, this one amply rewards repeat listenings.

In "Tracking Through the Snow," Jasmes sings: "I'm going to keep on going / Track me to the end / Calling out to everybody...." When she calls out again, I'll be listening."

review by
Michael Scott Cain

8 September 2007

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