Happy Growl 2020
From Midwest to the whole wide world, Milwaukeean warbler walks on guilded splinters into the future.
Despite the indisputable quality of candied Americana offered on the four albums this singer has released over the last decade, Peggy James’ fame and popularity remain rather parochial, but “Paint Still Wet” will undoubtedly change such a situation. The mature yet immediate work, it’s both endearing and intellectual – and full of hidden wonders.
What initially sounds like a sanguine country rock in “Let’s Fly Away” suddenly takes wing and soars once Peggy’s perky delivery, contrasting the deceptively plaintive licks, is elevated by lyrical fiddle so that the feeble, bleak sadness will be swept away and replaced with bright colors. They also fill the acoustic intimacy of “Wiser” whose ’60s-influenced innocence and silky vocal harmonies prove to be hard-hitting, if filigree-filled, in the end. Further down the line, the riff-laden “Scarlet And Gold” quotes Elton and the Fabs-referencing “Holdin’ Hands” deliberately edges too close to “Be My Baby” for comfort, although Ms James has a lot of class in laying all the voices – and even more class in the autobiographical “San Antone” where flamenco tinges, courtesy of fellow Midwesterner Daryl Stuermer, inform the song with a simmering passion.
So while the smoldering twang in “Fallen Star” is irresistibly alluring and the old-timey pastiche of “Can’t Do Lonely Anymore” feels like a humorous display of Peggy’s ability to rule a saloon, “Lighter Than A Feather” highlights her delicate handling of a folk formula and symphonic idiom, and the rockabilly-tinctured shuffle of “Nothin’s The Same” shows that she can rock any joint no matter how serious her song is. Which “Gettin’ Serious” isn’t: channeling the singer’s on-stage performance, it gives an indication as to what a force of nature James may turn into. With numbers of this sort, “Paint Still Wet” must leave a trace, the aftertaste of her soul on the listener’s psyche – here’s an album to spin and adore.