You might call Angela James’ voice arresting. Her rich, crooning style is clearly inspired by singers from her upbringing in Tennessee; names like Hazel Dickens and Neko Case aren’t far reaching comparisons. James’ new album, Now That I Have You, is an embrace and celebration of a new phase of life as an artist and comes as a special-edition double LP along with her second full-length album Time Will Tell (2016)- finally seeing a proper release six years later.
“I came to songwriting later in life with a pretty big dose of imposter syndrome; it took me into my late 30s to get over that. I had a fear I would wake up someday and not have any more songs left. I feared that Time Will Tell'' might be the last album I ever wrote.” - Angela James
Though Time Will Tell was an ambitious step into freeing songs from more traditional forms and into the verdant world of Chicago’s improvised music scene, the questions of what might happen to her artistic life after parenthood ultimately became a self-fulfilling prophecy- James didn’t put the record on streaming services until 2020. “I sound like I’m looking for something and not finding it,” James remarks while listening to a past version of herself. Time Will Tell is replete with questions of how one balances caregiving and creativity, Now That I Have You provides the answers and is a triumphant return to her strengths as a songwriter and performer.
Now That I Have You started as a way to slowly explore songwriting while balancing caregiving duties for a family member with dementia and James’ young daughter. “Creating was a way to stay sane in the midst of loss and exhaustion,” James explains. This process guided her to the realization that she was still growing artistically in unexpected ways- empathy and creativity were evolving together. These songs poured out over the course of a year and during the pandemic lockdown she sent them blindly and confidently to producer and multi-instrumentalist David Vandervelde (Father John Misty, Jay Bennett) who immediately started reworking the arrangements with Angela as co-producer. Vandervelde pushed her closer to her Americana roots while maintaining spaciousness and the spirit of experimentation and collaboration of her previous records
The opener and title track “Now That I Have You” is a lush, off-kilter country tune that beautifully meanders until it locks in with a whole chorus: “Now that I have you / I don’t worry anymore.” James exudes confidence and takes a bold step forward in stark contrast to the questions she grappled with on Time Will Tell. On “Mindf*ck,” one of the most immediate songs on the album, James sings about how caregiving brought madness alongside love: “I can’t sleep for thinking I hear your voice down the hall/Maybe you need me or miss me or for the hell of it you just want to call.” James' vocal range and craft really shines throughout the record but especially so on the a cappella song, “The Ballad Of Hattie James,” which sounds like a lost Hazel Dickens song. James balances that starkness with sweeping sonic landscapes from a rolodex of musicians across genres. “Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Mother” showcases adventurous arrangements and is the cornerstone of Now That I Have You; layers of vibraphone, synth, horns, and meditative harmonies on top of traditional instrumentation create an otherworldly musical journey.
Now That I Have You and Time Will Tell released together are Angela James’ artistic map from one unknown shore to another. These songs are intimate and honest portraits reflecting the challenges and the beauty of change.
4/23 at Constellation - tix