Low-key is often a euphemism for boring but the Brad James Band‘s At Fellowship Hall is low-key—without being dull. The Kickstarter-funded solo debut, released by Horton Records, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based label dedicated to supporting local artists, has a nice, relaxing energy that will conjure memories of bands like Delaney and Bonnie, with melodies that will remind you of the Allman Brothers Band.
James is a singer/guitarist. He has a quiet, mellow voice and the band’s music takes its cue
from that. There’s a blues sound but not much blues anguish. The tone is usually more casual. One might be inclined to say a voice like James’ sounds like someone singing from a front porch. As someone who’s never had that experience, nor even a front porch, really, it’s hard to declare that sentiment with authority. But there’s a definite laid-back feel to his singing, with it often feeling like the listener is catching James singing to himself, rather than James performing for our benefit.
There are plenty of singers and bands who take a similar approach to James. What keeps this from sounding different from those other artists, though, is James’ band and production. There are lots of different instruments and sounds on tracks. Nothing is dense. Every song breathes. But the various sonic touches give the tracks a lift that keep them from sounding like more than some dude singing to himself.
The album has some beautiful moments. Perhaps the prettiest is “April’s Girlfriend,” a country
tune that pairs beautifully with James’ deadpan vocals. The simple song flows on an
undercurrent of pedal steel, courtesy of Jesse Aycock. It features a few solos, as all great
country songs do, spotlighting organ, guitar, and piano. The second guitar solo is pure Allman
Brothers a la “Blue Sky,” right down to the harmony lines, which is always nice to hear in a
“Effort” is more straight-ahead rock, similarly fleshed out with organ and background vocals. The chorus is upbeat and sincere: “I hope all this effort is working,” James pleads, his voice
somehow never betraying any desperation. While there are hints of emotion, the performance is all very staid and mid-Western.
James has an interesting voice. The calmness of it is reassuring and while it’s not a typical
blues timbre, it has a nice sense of detached country cool. It works especially well with his
band’s interesting arrangements, which have a lot of typical Americana sounds, but that also
leave a lot of sonic white space. Ultimately, that’s what impressive about At Fellowship Hall: the lack of urgency. Everyone is doing their their thing, and doing it well, but there’s a laid-back energy to it all. Nothing is rushed and everything unfurls at its own pace. James had a lot of these songs kicking around his head for years and they were well-served by getting the
opportunity to ripen there.
*Feature image courtesy of Mixtape-Media