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James McCartney - Schuba's Tavern, Chicago, 21/6/2016

  by Lisa Torem

published: 23 / 8 / 2016

James McCartney - Schuba's Tavern, Chicago, 21/6/2016


At Chicago's Schuba's Tavern, Lisa Torem watches singer-songwriter James McCartney' treat fans to new material from 'The Blackberry Train'

“It’s all been an evolution. This set of songs definitely has a harder edge, but it’s a continuation of the last album,” James McCartney revealed in our interview before his June 21st appearance at the intimate, wood panelled Schuba’s Tavern. The British singer-songwriter/guitarist was contrasting 2013’s ‘Me’ with his second studio album, ‘The Blackberry Train’, which was primarily recorded at Electrical Audio Studios, with hometown producer Steve Albini, with whom Mr. McCartney has collaborated many times before. Looking back, ‘Me’ introduced us to the sensitive repertoire of James McCartney, but ‘The Blackberry Train’ makes us feel right at home. It was exciting to hear such a variety of original styles performed in a relatively small space. He put us in his pocket and held nothing back on ‘Paralysis’, which features dramatic melodic dips and dystopic lyrics. For ‘Alice’, he took us on a retro-ride through the 1960s. McCartney did quite a lot with just a little; two guitars and a well-travelled amp. He solved some distortion problems alone, before launching into his solo set. The stormy progressions of ‘Peyote Coyote’ heavily contrasted with the finger style approach he claimed for his heartfelt ballads. But he first satisfied the rock aficionados with ‘Too Hard’, a confident confessional comprised of steadfast riffs and bouncing vocals. The odd-metered and almost Stravinsky-like melodic dips of ‘Paralysis’ added another curious touch. The metric drones of ‘Fantasy’ triggered a ‘Strawberry Fields’ vibe— he cites the Beatles as a major influence. James McCartney’s voice is difficult to categorize, but it’s truly expressive and he does a lot with his range. And he has grown tremendously as a selective story teller over three short years. At times, the take away could be described as healing, like when he sang the palpable, image-based ‘Ballerina’ and the spiritually gratifying ‘Peace and Stillness’, which stood on its own, even sans the lush studio-recorded violin arrangement (on ‘The Blackberry Train’) by Chicago’s first lady of strings, Susan Voelz (with Inger Petersen Carle, violin, Vannia Phillips, viola and Nora Barton, cello). ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ has the sing-song feel of a children’s rhyme, but it’s deceptive. “Marshmallow maiden looking outta her bed / Revolution starting inside her head / a tissue, a tissue we all fall down.” McCartney deftly brought out the bittersweet irony of this outsider tome. “In the end, it's about having as much emotion as possible for me, musically and lyrically,” James confided, when asked about his songwriting strategy. This was one great example. The set list was comprised almost entirely of TBT material with the exception of ‘Home Fix’ and ‘Earth Shine’. It’s a fine album. But some fans wanted more interaction. McCartney didn’t address the audience until after he had performed several visceral numbers, thereby creating an intense mood. It seemed like a good idea to wait. Every artist needs to get in the zone. But when he did speak, a fan challenged him. Why don’t you say more? He handled, what could have been an awkward moment, with grace. A few years back, James McCartney had come to town with his own band; a team of in-demand players that had been with him in the studio and that knew his material inside out, but tonight it was all on him: the finger-style arrangements, the tunings, the timing, the tech work, the set list and the schmoozing. That’s a tall order. But he rose to the challenge and granted us a highly creative night. I’d say that’s more than enough. Photos by Philamonjaro www.philamonjaro.com

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James McCartney - Schuba's Tavern, Chicago, 21/6/2016

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