Seth James is This Kind of Man
Seth James and his versatile but dependably funky band returned to the legendary Texas honky tonk Gruene Hall this past Spring, a place that has long been, as he puts it, “one of our mother spots” in the time he’s spent building a devoted following on the Texas music scene. His last CD, released five years ago, was even recorded there live—only things had definitely changed in the time since that release.
As his new CD, That Kind of Man, released September 1st on Underground Sound/Thirty Tigers Records, makes sensationally clear, Seth James circa 2009 is writing and singing original, memorable songs with fetching musical hooks—Americana that seamlessly encompasses roots rock, country, a dollop of romantic balladry and a strong dose of roadhouse R&B. Seth’s rich, accomplished singing is what strikes audiences first now, as his vocals venture effortlessly from an earthy rasp that can evoke Bruce Springsteen or Travis Tritt, to some smooth crooning bound to please fans of, say, Chris Issak.
But some hardcore fans at Gruene Hall that night weren’t expecting the metamorphosis of the one time guitar-slinging front man of a screaming blues power trio.
“It can be a strange and dangerous situation to be in,” James laughs, “when there are real hardcore fans telling me they came to hear me play a lot of guitar, and what they get is twenty-five songs, only five of which they might ever have heard. Luckily we found that everybody was digging the new music; the reaction was still the same once they realized the guitar solos weren’t really what it was about any more, it was the same guy with new songs. The fact is, the kids that are filling up the clubs we play in these days are more interested in lyrics; they like to sing along with everybody’s words, and we’re starting to see that now ourselves at our shows. But I’ve never seen a teenager hum a guitar solo!”
Seth had begun focusing on his songwriting—not a surprising call for a West Texan who cites Billy Joe Shaver as a personal hero— some four years back—and he was rapidly offered a publishing deal and recording contract in Nashville. That turn of events didn’t make him an overnight star but, as he recalls, “I took that opportunity, buckled down, worked with writers there over the next three years and made some good friends.”
Among those eclectic, notably talented fiends are co-writers whose work with Seth appears on the new recording. His co-writers range from Nashville songwriting powerhouse Chris Stapleton, the soulful front man for The Steedrivers and author of such new country classics as Gary Allan’s “Drinkin’Dark Whiskey,” Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” and Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That came From,” to alternative country standard bearers such as Dan Baird, Warner Hodges, Tommy Womack and Trent Summar—and the multi-faceted Blue Miller, who’s been a producer for India Arie.
Among Seth’s close working Nashville acquaintances are the producers of the rich-sounding That Kind of Man, songwriter Jay Knowles and engineer Herb Tassin.
Astonishingly, with cohorts that understood Seth’s music and sonic aspirations so well, such outstanding musicians as Mike Rojas on keyboards, Mike Henderson joining Seth on electric guitar, and Seth’s wife Jessica Murray among the harmony singers, was produced in just three days—with no second guessing.
“I think it’s an honest collection of all the sorts of things I’ve done or wanted to do,” Seth says, considering the funky R&B of the opening track “Thing for You,” the country rock balladry of “Leaves of September,” the harder rocking “Two for Tuesday,” twangy “Honky Tonk Saturday Night,” and romantic, soulful “Ain’t No Problem.”
This from a young man who grew up in West Texas ranch country so rural that he had a high school graduating class of two, and where a cowboy still could—and Seth James did—pull a chuck wagon out and sleep there on the ground. But his father and grandfather were both musicians, and he was raised to the sounds of such “soul meets country” roadhouse practitioners as Leon Russell and Delbert McClinton, and coming to love “anything that has that dirt on it, whether it’s Levon helm or Springsteen.” He spent much time in high school in the 90s “learning the Creedence songs they never played on the radio,” and honing that guitar he’d master—and eventually put relatively aside.
Today Seth, Jessica, and their three-year-old son Charlie live near Wichita Falls, Texas, not so far in spirit or location from where he really started out—just like his music.
"We get so used to music that is tuned up and polished to the point that all of the humanness gets pulled out if it," Seth James says, "I hope that this record gives people encouragement that there are still musicians out there making good, honest music for the sake of the songs. I feel strongly that when they hear this record they'll know that it's something real, knowing that it's not just something I'm trying to sell them, but something I want them to have, enjoy and hopefully it moves them in some way."