Dark, Dreamy, Evocative, Sophisticated Americana-Inspired Tunesmithing From Peggy James
Peggy James’ 2018 album Nothing in Between was a lush, Lynchian masterpiece. The Milwaukee Americana singer’s latest album, The Parade – streaming at Soundcloud – is a little more stripped down, but guitarist Jim Eannelli rises to the occasion, supplying layers of keys as well. James’ misty, down-to-earth vocals are as unselfconsciously poignant as ever.
The opening track,I Go With Me is an escape anthem, but the past haunts her narrator “A brand new destination doesn’t change my reputation,” she confides over a mix of late 60s countrypolitan and 80s new wave textures that give away Eannelli’s roots.
Willow is a straight-up oldschool 60s-style country ballad with a grittier guitar edge and some tasty twin leads from Eannelli on slide. Thousand Reasons starts out like a demo by an iconic band from James’ home turf, the BoDeans, with a woman out front; Eannelli’s drifty, dreamy, late-period ELO style production from there is spot-on.
There’s more slide guitar and a steady gallop in Guardian Angel, which rocks harder without losing the nocturnal ambience. Hard Times, a steady, backbeat country tune, seems to reflect both the destruction in the wake of the BLM protests last summer, and then the devastation of the plandemic:
What will it take to bind us all together?
Hope to God it’s not another 9/11
We don’t miss the slogans that we never would forget
Now we’re more divided than we ever have been
There’s stark contrast between James’ acoustic guitar and Eannelli’s spacious, resonant electric leads in Best in Me. The guitar layers grow more luscious in the Buddy Holly-inspired So Subtle. Joan of Arc, a venomous, fire-and-brimstone political broadside, is a mashup of Badfinger and 70s Nashville: lyrically, it’s the strongest song on the record.
Likewise, the relentless storm metaphors throughout the most ghostly track here, the ELO-tinged Indoor Cat. James goes back to country in the loping, twangy Crossroad Moment and closes with the unexpectedly raucous but sobering title cut: the fall from grace James chronicles is a personal one, but you can’t help but wonder if that’s symbolic of a greater malaise. And her knowing, wounded voice really drives the song home. It’s a solid follow-up after a career high for James; here’s hoping there’s more from her sooner than later.