Critically acclaimed singer-songwriter James McCartney has remained fiercely dedicated to his musical vision of melding smart hooks and feral alt-rock with the grandeur and spiritually centeredness of psychedelic music. Now, he issues the sharpest entry of his vision, the majestic The Blackberry Train engineered by Steve Albini (Nirvana, The Pixies and PJ Harvey).
“It’s all been an evolution,” James says. “This set of songs definitely has a harder edge, but it’s a continuation of the last album. The main thing for me is to not conform or compromise.”
James’ panoramic artistry is inspired by such diverse musicians as Kurt Cobain, The Smiths, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, The Cure, The Beatles, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Hank Williams. His fingerprint aesthetic has earned him plaudits from Rolling Stone, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and The Daily News. He’s earned a strong following the old fashioned way, through tirelessly touring the US, Europe and the UK, and playing bigger and bigger shows with each go around.
The Blackberry Train is an epiphanic co-mingling of aesthetics. James sought out the distinct audio stylings of Steve Albini to conjure a grungier sensibility. He welcomed the engineer’s gifts for capturing music with a raw clarity, and Steve Albini’s reputation for not impinging on an artist’s vision. The results make for an eclectic album with fastidiously crafted songs documented in the studio with glorious purity.
“I like the music to have elements of the avant garde, psychedelic, and be just a little against the grain,” James reveals. “But in the end, it’s about having as much emotion as possible for me, musically and lyrically. It’s all about the music being cathartic, heartfelt and true.”
The Blackberry Train manages to be both diverse and cohesive. The album opens invigoratingly with the jangling rocker, “Too Hard” and closes with the stately and aptly named folk song “Peace and Stillness.” Between these bookends, highlights include the rough-edged and urgently melodic “Unicorn,” the anthemic “Peyote Coyote,” and the soulful ballad “Prayer.” One very personal song is the winsome and reflective “Waterfall” which was inspired by memories of his mother.
This summer and fall James will embark on extensive tour dates in the U.S. Thinking ahead, James says: “I just want to keep on going, keep working, and improving as a songwriter. I’d love to feel that I realized my full potential both as a person, and as a songwriter. That feels like a great, fulfilling goal to shoot for. Making a lot of music, and striving for more depth artistically–those are my goals.”