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Susan James


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Experimental rock

Status:

Most recent album, Driving Toward The Sun (2013)

See also:

Susan James' site

The LoTioN site (which has some sound samples)

Comparisons:

Highly original, but see comments below

Covers/own material:

own

General comments:

She has a wonderful voice, is a powerful songwriter and an amazing guitar player—a guitar goddess. She is one of those rare artists that I actually look forward to hearing instrumental work from—I'm usually much more interested in songs and the interaction of vocals and instruments—she's that good a guitarist. Susan is what (if she weren't so damn good at making actual music out of it) I'd call a guitar wanker—she plays showy, experimental stuff, that because she's such a good musician, is powerful and melodic. But I do love her songs and vocals, too. (Neile)

Susan James is one of my favorite local guitarists. (thecritics@earthlink.net)

Comments about live performance:

Susan James is INCREDIBLE! Imagine a female Michael Hedges mixed with some Sonic Youth. She played her first tune at blinding speed and with flawless dexterity. For another tune, "Poison," she inserted a small piece of paper behind the bass strings of her electric and fingerpicked an "evil-sounding" (her words) thunky bass riff throughout the tune. To end, she did another wicked number on acoustic, ending the piece by holding the guitar against her amp, making a swirling nimbus of noise. The whole set was un-be-fuggin'-lievable, one of the best sets of original music I've witnessed in a long, long time. (dixon@physics.Berkeley.EDU)

Susan James rules. First off, she has a really nice voice. Second, there's her guitar playing. She was doing some quite nice things with her acoustic, but when she strapped on her purple electric things really got interesting. She played one song using a dulcimer hammer on the strings, then brought out "Mister Paper" to put through the strings for another song, and did generally weird things with it on everything else. (meth@smoe.org)

Last night I had the pleasure of catching Susan James live. The audience was small and inattentive, a real shame, since the show was quite good. She played exclusively from her new double album Fantastic Voyage. The first 4 or so songs were all from the vocal album, and I was beginning to think she wouldn't play any instrumentals. The songs were generally appealing, but seemed more ragged than what I knew from Shocking Pink Banana Seat. At some point, things started to click a bit better, and I thought the songs picked up more energy. Then she started playing some of the instrumentals, and I was completely bowled over. Her guitar playing was a nice accompaniment to the songs, but it wasn't all that striking. But when it was set free to run wild without lyrics, well, that was another story entirely. She played a few instrumentals all in a row, and while none featured any of the wild tricks elsewhere in this entry, they were each unique and intriguing. I'm actually looking forward to listening to the instrumental disc more than the vocal one. (10/98, neal)

Well, she does have a nice voice, I just didn't care for the tunes :-). (psfblair@ix.netcom.com)

I went to this show without having heard a single note of Susan's music, trusting the opinion of those ectophiles who have had good things to say about her. I'm glad I did, because I thought she was absolutely amazing! A great voice, great guitar playing and great songs...what more could you ask for?
     I loved all the songs she performed from her upcoming album, so I'm really looking forward to it—I was glad to read that Susan will be doing an instrumental album as well, because I was blown away by her skill with the guitar as well. (mcurry@io.com)

I highly recommend seeing her on this solo jaunt. Even though her shows with a full band (consisting of Abby Travis and Amy Wood) are one of those truly epic rock experiences, her voice matched one-on-one with her guitar is even more ear-inviting. (thecritics@earthlink.net)

Recommended first album:

Shocking Pink Banana Seat or Fantastic Voyage

Recordings include:


Life Between Two Worlds

Release info:

1990—Uncivilized Music, U.S.A.

Availability:

See Susan James' site

Ecto priority:

high for lovers of edgy folk/rock

Group members:

Susan James—vocals, guitar, mandolin, percussion, wine glasses, piano strings

Guest artists:

Ty Daugherty—wine glasses
Peter Steinbach—piano strings assist

Produced by:

Susan James

Comments:

While she's grown as a musician and songwriter from the time she made this, it still shows a maturity of both style and songwriting, and of course Susan's strong voice. There are some songs here that I replay and replay and replay, particularly the beautifully constructed (yes, this song actually feels like running) "Run" and the achingly lovely "From Across The Sea" and "Far Away" (luckily for the rewind button on my tape player these three songs are in a row). The album is a little more on the acoustic-folky singer/songwriter end of her style, and though it is mostly rock-flavoured, it's not quite as edgy as her later work. (Neile)

Shocking Pink Banana Seat

Release info:

1996—Major Label Records

Availability:

See Susan James' site

Ecto priority:

High for lovers of experimental rocking music

Group members:

Susan James—vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, muted guitar, leslie guitars, synth, chimes, bass, weird feedback noises

Guest artists:

DJ Bonebrake—drums
Abby Travis—bass
Travis Dickerson—handclaps, organ, chimes, piano
Bren Holmes—bass
Lindy Dickerson—bass
Chas Smith—pedal steel guitar
Bron Tieman—slide

Produced by:

Travis Dickerson and Susan James

Comments:

It's an eclectic mix of straightahead rock ("Rock Star"), a couple of almost folky cuts ("Eileen", which is the song the title comes from), and a couple of experimental-flavoured cuts. "Poison", my favourite song on the album, actually rather reminds me of Kathleen Yearwood and Emily Bezar. She's an amazing guitarist and a great songwriter and has a powerful voice. It took me a few listens to "get" Shocking Pink Banana Seat but I love it now! It's full of catchy songs that will keep you hitting the replay button on your disc player. At least, that's the way it works for me. (Neile)

I picked up a copy of Shocking Pink Banana Seat at a live show, and though I've only listened to it only a couple of times so far I really like it. (mcurry@io.com)


Fantastic Voyage: a double album

Release info:

1998—Red Letter Records.—644607 06982 6

Availability:

See Susan James' site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

CD One: "Lovesick" The Songs:

Group members:

Susan James—vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, mandolin, organ, tambourine

Guest artists:

Tommy Sintson—bass, additional acoustic guitar
Joseph Hammer—analog loops and noises
Amy Wood—drums
Gary Eaton—bass
Peter Berke—drums
Rusty Squeezebox—drums
Ben Powers—cello
Michael Tempo—percussion
John Wood—lap steel

Produced by:

Susan James and John Wood

CD Two: "Stranger Bedfellows" The Instrumentals:

Group members:

Susan James—vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass

Guest artists:

Michael Tempo—drums and percussion
Joseph Hammer—analog loops, concerned looks
Carol Hansen, Rob Jameson, Marie Kolofsky, David Holmes—string quartet

Produced by:

Susan James / Chris Mortimore—Executive Producer

Comments:

Wow. Both of these discs are fascinating music. The song disc is pretty straightforward hook-laden rock, while the instrumental disc is slightly experimental and musically intriguing. I'm still on my first few listens, but am hooked enough to know I'll be listening a lot. It's as great as her live shows promised. Like her previous albums, this took a while to grow into my head, and to my surprise one of my favourite songs here is a country-ish song. How did she pull that one off? (I am not a country fan). Anyway, if you like rock and great songwriting and guitar work and a strong rich voice, GET THIS! (Neile)

While there were a few misses on this double-CD set, overall I really enjoyed it. Very, very good. (mcurry@io.com)

I ordered Fantastic Voyage based on the number of list raves about it and about her proficiency as a guitarist. What I got was not at all what I expected. To be fair, I have only listened to it once and it has been several months. But to be honest, I can't quite get myself into the mood to listen to it again. Sure, she's a very good guitarist—when she plays the damn thing. There was just too much gimmickry for me...too many sound effects. It can be interesting if done well and used sparingly. I guess I have a low tolerance for bells and whistles, so to speak. At some point it just becomes annoying (and often repetitive) noise to me. Perhaps it bothers me most when I know that underneath it all, there is a talented individual that I would really like to hear. (JavaHo@aol.com)


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Entry last updated 2013-02-20 18:09:43.
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