James Justin & Co.
Southern Son, So Far
Conceived in a modest home studio in Johns Island, local songwriter James Justin Burke's new album is a collection of melodious odes to his deepest family roots.
Stepping away from the straightforward jam-rock of his other project Jupiter's Garden, Burke aims for a more atmospheric and soulful sound on the nine-song Southern Son, So Far. It's a fabulous recording for such a modest facility and effort.
Released under the band name Justin James & Co., the songwriter tracked the collection at Plowground Productions, the studio run by local drummer Jim Donnelly. Banjo player/guitarist Bailey Horsley and upright bassist Tom Propst contributed most of the backing parts. Burke and Donnelly arranged for Nashville studio man Kevin Mixson (of Mix 7 Studios) to master the songs. They did a nice job. Most of the tunes amble by like shimmering patches of fog: wispy, lilting, and mysterious.
The swingin' but dozy "In the Garden" — propelled by a melodic, rolling banjo line from Horsley — kicks things off with a strummy rhythm with light piano and distorted guitar accents percolating in the background as Burke sings of his "rose bush burning red." It's a solid opener that swells, builds momentum, and dissipates dynamically.
Harmony-heavy ballad "The Rescue" crescendoes with even noisier guitar feedback in the distant background. Featuring Ben Bridwell (of Band of Horses) on the high-note backing vocals, plus a touch of extra brass on a few breaks, Burke sings like a gracious survivor from verse to verse.
The bluegrass-based "Count on Me" bounces with a quicker tempo, with terrific mandolin and banjo work. Think Cat Stevens meets the Pure Prairie League. The most Woodstock-styled song of the bunch, "Free Love," is a bit more anthemic. Optimistic and gracious, with banjo, acoustic and electric guitar, and bits of electric piano, the highlight is the chorus of "If you feel love, feel love ... if you feel free, feel free."
"I Know You Will," one of the twangiest ditties, has some of the warmest vocal harmonies, the catchiest melodies, and the most Keith Richards-esque guitar solo of the collection (thanks to Mike Sivilli and Dan Lotti, the guest guitarists from Dangermuffin).
The sad, waltzy "Just a Dream" slows things down considerably with a double-fiddle intro. The album's anthemic closer "Chaser Boy" finds Burke singing "Hallelujah!" as if he were among the congregation at Sunday services.
Burke's words stick in the mind. Lyrically, Southern Son, So Far conjures familiar childhood memories and images — set against an appealingly woodsy/rootsy sound. Tastefully sparse at times, Burke sings from the heart without hesitation or worry. It's an impressive and strong step ahead for the budding local songwriter. (myspace.com/jamesjustinburke)