Early James is a young man singing beyond his years
Singing for My Supper: Early James
  • INTRO: A Young Man Singing Beyond His Years
  • PLAYLIST: On Spotify and YouTube
  • REVIEW: By Jon Parales in the New York Times
  • LYRICS: Blue Pill Blues, It Doesn’t Matter Now and High Horse

IN THIS (PANDEMIC) TIME is a series of Kurated columns inspired by COVID-19. Keep your ears to the ground.

Kurated70something Earlyjames
Early James’ debut release is on Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label. One half of the band Black Keys, Auerbach produced the sessions and co-wrote several songs.


Hearing a newcomer like Early James makes you realize how rare and precious are the talents of an insightful wordsmith making music like we heard a few decades ago. James would find himself in good company with artists like Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristoffersen, Bonnie Raitt or Steve Earle to name a handful.

The songs on his first collection, Singing for My Supper, are those of a young man –he’s 26– with understanding beyond his years. The compositions vary in style, but the feel skews toward country-folk with themes to match –relationships, depression and addiction.

Spare acoustic arrangements sit next to neo-psychedelic guitar-driven rock, meandering pedal steel and songs with lush, orchestral flourishes. What anchors the mix is James’ impassioned and plain spoken delivery in a sandpaper edged-voice. 

A brief survey of Early James’ previous work shows him performing solo or with standup bass accompaniment. This is his first effort with a full band. Much of the credit for this accomplished and strong debut release goes to producer, arranger and occasional co-writer Dan Auerbach.

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Kris Sig Plastic V3

26 April 2020




On his debut album the 26-year-old sings about disillusion in styles that glance back to the 1970s and before

By Jon Pareles / New York Times

Early James — the Alabama-born singer and songwriter Frederick James Mullis Jr. — just sidles his way into the first song on “Singing for My Supper,” his debut album. “Blue Pill Blues” has an instrumental intro that lasts more than a minute, with its riffs bubbling up out of what might be a late-1960s Jefferson Airplane jam, before James starts singing. His first lyrics are, “What’s roiling and churning in my poor mind.”

He maintains that uneasy, oblique approach throughout the album, presenting himself as both a throwback and a character living in a fraught, uncertain present. Early James is 26, but his music has much older underpinnings, glancing back to the 1970s, the 1960s and before. (In the album’s last song, “Dishes in the Dark,” he does some ragtimey acoustic-guitar picking.) He’s decidedly self-conscious about looking back, but also unapologetic; “Lord knows, I love to borrow/Never stolen, I’ll argue that,” he sings in “Way of the Dinosaur,” which has a chorus that concludes, “Originality up left, and went the way of the dinosaur.”

Early James is on the roster of Easy Eye Sound, the studio and label of Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys, who produces albums for both grizzled blues and country survivors and younger musicians, like Yola, who savor retro ways of recording: hand-played and live-sounding, with a professional polish that relies far more on virtuosity than on studio tweaking.

The songs on “Singing for My Supper” have a foundation of vintage instruments — guitars swaying in reverb and tremolo, the steamy tones of a Hammond B3 organ, the self-contained cool of a Wurlitzer electric piano — and arrangements that hark back to the Nashville and California of yesteryear. The drums are steady and understated; steel guitar hovers in the background; mandolin or dobro arrive for rural touches, string sections for reassurance.

But Early James chafes against any comforts the music might provide. His voice sounds tattered and nervous, with a grainy quaver, as if he’s looking over his shoulder half the time. His melodies hesitate and evade the beat; his lyrics move via moody free association, not the direct narratives of most Americana.

He often sings about how things go wrong: relationships (“Stockholm Syndrome”), youthful hopes (“High Horse”), a family’s luck (“Easter Egg”). In “Gone as a Ghost,” a fatalistic country cha-cha, he sings, “It’s time that you get gone/Wasting your youth, till your name’s on a gravestone.” The album’s most openly dramatic song is “It Doesn’t Matter Now,” a film-noir crescendo with more than a hint of Tom Waits; the singer wakes up after a tryst realizing, “You need me like you need another blackout/And I need you like I need another thing to lie about/It’s all my fault somehow.”

Disillusion fills the songs, without the luxury of nostalgia. In “Clockwork Town,” a twangy bolero, the singer revisits a place he used to live, only to reflect, “It sure don’t feel like home/Then again, what really does?” Early James (and Auerbach’s gang of studio musicians) can look back on a cozy musical past, but it doesn’t promise them any clear way forward.


Blue Pill Blues

[Verse 1]
What's rolling and churning in my poor mind
Supposed to hold fast
Supposed to keep me feeling fine
But it's cookin' my goose with a cast-iron noose
Can't walk a straight line, I'm runnin' on Strychnine

Just can't lose these blue pill blues
Tick tock, tick tock
There goes my fuse

[Verse 2]
Nothing as dull as what's in my skull
What I'm cutting' back is only quicker to attack
Chip on my shoulder, chip off the ole block
Pullin' all the strings, I'm just a puppet sock

Just can't lose these blue pill blues
Tick tock, tick tock
There goes my fuse
Just can't lose these blue pill blues
Tick tock, tick tock
There goes my fuse

It Doesn’t Matter Now

Oh we've done it now, what a tangled web we wove
Through the night
Wool all in her eyes
Shepards got a big surprise come daylight
And all the barnyard bigotry, all except you and me, for a while
In spite of our history, got lost in the periphery
And I fell for your desperate smile

But you need me like you need another blackout
I need you like I need one more thing to lie about
It's all my fault somehow
Guess it doesn't matter now

[Verse 2]
You're above this town, if you'd only don the crown
They put you up on a Southside mural
Hope you gain the will
All it took was a handful of pills
And a postponed funeral
Don't remember all the things I said
Just the hospital bed
And the weight of it all
I felt all the blame
Mostly I felt ashamed
So sorry I didn't call

But you need me like you need another blackout
I need you like I need one more thing to lie about
It's all my fault somehow
Guess it doesn't matter now

High Horse
I kinda sorta wish that I could keep clean
In the kinda sorta way that I used to be
A child-like belief
And time's been the thief all along
It's the view from this high horse I’m on

[Verse 1]
A fever-dream it seems of just passing the time
Too much nicotine, caffeine and wine
My milk-mustache shaved
Things I once craved, make me yawn
It's the view from this high horse I’m on

I can’t remember the last time that I climbed a tree
Now when I’m high there ain’t much that I wanna see

[Verse 2]
All I remember is waking up under the sink
Why can’t I go out at night
And just have one little drink
Or two, or three, or four

I kinda sorta wish that I could keep clean
In the kinda sorta way that I used to be
A child-like belief
And time's been the thief all along
It's the view from this high horse I’m on