It might have taken Jemima James thirty-plus years to write and record her second full length album but When You Get Old, included as a companion album to the recent release of James’ long withheld debut At Longview Farm, builds on the potential she exhibited long ago in a big way. The thirteen song collection demonstrates the same breadth of technique heard on the 1979 debut, but James’ increased skill level and added emotional depth expands that breadth and allows her to transmute more of her life experience and utilize her talents in service of her chosen art. Team Love Records has often championed these under the radar talents, but despite their obscurity, Jemima James is among those performers who leave no doubt that their skills are equal to even the most iconic of mainstream artists.
The first and title song for the album rolls nicely past the listener with easy sophistication and non-assertive charisma. It almost sounds like a good-natured barroom number and the looseness has a lot of warmth but focus. “Magician” tempers those attributes and aims to impress listeners with its sensitivity and taste. The guitar work is precise, but full of melody and lyricism, and James’ voice provides the ideal counterpoint for the music. Delicacy is a watchword on this album and its feel is much softer than she employed on At Longview Farm and few songs illustrate that better than “If I Could Only Fly”. There’s a lower register present in James’ voice now that gives some of these tracks a light-pedaled gravitas and the use of fiddle and different guitar voices, particularly slide, gives some songs a dramatic whiff of melancholy. She opts for a patient, mid-tempo shuffle on “If It’s the End” and, like the title song, underscores a more obvious humorous edge to some songs that you don’t encounter as strongly on 1979’s At Longview Farm. None of these songs sound overly rehearsed or structured; instead, the album’s thirteen tracks have the feel of music cut spontaneously and in intimate surroundings.
The light backing vocals supporting James on “Bats in the Belfry” emphasizes the song’s inherent melodic value and the lyrical content is quite good. “Tennessee Blues” has a great of elegance and taste, but it’s the patience of its development that will satisfy listeners best. The blues in this song doesn’t announce itself too loudly; instead, she accomplishes that feel through an assortment of easy touches that never overwhelm the audience. The refrain powering the album’s penultimate song, “Slow Dancing With You”, has the same gentle swaying quality that distinguishes the best songs on When You Get Old, but the best touch comes from the inclusion of beautiful, haunting backing vocals that lifts James’ voice even higher.
When You Get Old shows tremendous artistic growth for Jemima James during her time away from the musical spotlight. The commitment to continue working on her craft isn’t true of everyone working in the business; it’s driven by a much deeper inner need, a sense of serving some, perhaps indefinable, muse. Jemima James certainly does herself quite proud with the quality of this full length release.