James Gray brings us heartfelt stories and tales for a new dawn with his single ‘Sleepless’ from his new album ‘New Friends That Talk Like Old Friends’ released late last year.
James is a traveling folk singer that spends half his years living in his cabin in Muskoka, Ontario, in peaceful nature, composing music and allowing himself to breathe. The other half of his life takes him worldwide, including tours of Canada, Europe, and Australia, with more countries and continents on his roster. His natural fingerstyle guitar work and haunting vocals bring visions and sounds of The Band, Townes Van Zandt, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, with a healthy dose of folk, americana, and alt-country all being the foundations of his song-crafting style. There is a sad and honest sound that James brings us with his particular sound, and with this album, it’s easily recognized.
‘New Friends That Talk Like Old Friends’ came along in 2020 when the world stopped to consider its fate. It was through this quiet contemplation that he decided to get the world connected again with this third album. ‘New Friends That Talk Like Old Friends’ is a collection of fables about people, for the people. His experiences on his travels and the wonderful folk he met along the way was the primary influence for this collection.
The songwriting process for this album was to lay the first guitars and vocals down in his cabin. If you listen closely, the sound of a wood-burning stove and birdsong can be heard, adding the collective ambiance to the overall grounding songs that James brings us.
‘Sleepless’ is the first single from his third album, and it’s typical of the James Gray color and sound. It pops along like ‘The Weight’ with that bass groove and drum set we all recognize. With gentle acoustics and bell-like electrics as the opening act, the support acts enter with the talent of Alyson McNamara’s layered backing vocals. They offer an airy accompaniment of a ghost-like wind flowing through Ontario’s Boreal forest.
Lyrically, James brings us a melancholic story—a tale of loneliness and internal conflict that hits us with the chorus of sadness.
‘Have I ever told you why? Told you why
have I ever told you how? Told you how
did I ever scream out loud? out loud,
did I ever tell you why I can’t sleep at night?’
It could be autobiographic, or it could be a tale from someone he met on his travels. Wherever the inspiration comes from, the lyrics will resonate with all of us sometime in our life. And it’s this ability that James brings to us with his music—the ability to connect with us and his audience.
James brought in a score of talent from right across ON to thicken the layer of his songwriting talent. After he’d laid down the core vocals and guitars at his home studio, he brought the album to Matt Montour. James then scoured Ontario for a family of musicians to add their own piece to the album, which included Bruce Mackinnon (Piano, Wurlitzer, and Woodwinds), Matt Burns (Drums), Geoff Burns (Bass), Alyson McNamara (Backing Vocals), Dean Drouillard (Electric Guitar), Steve Wood (Pedal Steel), Marion Linton (Violin), Christy Flynn-Sollman & Sandy “Granny” Mclaren (Backing Vocals on “What I’d Do”), and Thomas McCallum (Tin Whistle). Both James and Matt produced and recorded the album hopping all over Ontario to record the musicians’ various parts.
The admiration for James’s music reaches far and wide. Suzie Ungerleider (Oh Susanna) nails James’s sound by saying, “James Gray sings songs of poignant honesty with just enough grit in his voice to make you feel he has lived through the hard times and is here to tell you about it. His songs create a subtle yet striking landscape in your mind.”