Laden heavy with melodrama, the eleven tracks on ‘From The Top Of Willamette Mountain’ conjure up images of vast American landscapes and lonely vistas, punctuated occasionally with a wonderful sense of black-humoured playfulness. Take for example the big band and piano stomp nature of ‘Surrender’ where vocally at least, James sounds most reminiscent of Tom McRae as opposed to any lazy comparisons currently floating around to Ben Howard. In fact, the latter would do well pinching a few ideas from the album. Whether it’s the nostalgic glow of country music in ‘Willamette MTN’, or the the fuzzy intimacy of ‘Doctor, Oh Doctor’ which unravels itself as a heartbreaking tale of tragic devotion, there is, above everything else a genuine sense of honesty that runs through James’ work.
Whilst there are occasional moments of cliche - ‘Queen Of The City’ sees the singer-songwriter imitating a certain Bob Dylan a little too well - James manages to emerge the other side of the album’s 37 minutes with his reputation, largely as a result of his previous release, fully intact. The epic strings of ‘Holly, Halej’ lend the second half of the LP with some much-needed intensity, whilst the thematic bleakness of ‘Sister’ (‘I found your suicide poem in your right coat pocket…’) carries echoes of both Elliott Smith and oddly, the Shadows.
Elegant and deceptively downbeat, ‘From The Top Of Willamette Mountain’, is a passionately crafted third album that resonates with a desire to look to the past for inspiration. Beautifully balanced between introspection and emotional outpouring, this is a fine soundtrack to minds who yearn for the open road.