Professional Reviews

 

It comes from inside; something happens inside you, and its rarely convenient. Some days, you have to write. You simply have to do it; and it won’t leave you alone until you do. So you write.

Years ago, the one person with whom I had dared to share some of my poetry (the person who encouraged me to take up writing again after a verrrrry long dry spell) told me I should consider publishing it; that lots of people would relate to it; they would “get it.” In my mind, it was too personal; it only had meaning for me-in the context of my life. It took a long time to realize that he was right-my experience was the human experience. While no one else might visualize the same thing I did reading it, they would recognize the feelings and paint their own pictures. My friend was right. People relate.

The same thing applies to the music and lyrics that come “streaming, laughing, dancing” and sometimes sorrowing, from the pen and tongue of James F. Wright. Listening to Jim’s music, I have laughed and cried; I have stopped to ponder. I have drawn parallels in my own life, and occasionally, arrived at a new understanding that had seemed inaccessible from other directions. My response to Jim’s music comes from my own life experience; the actual events from which Jim’s songs were derived are light years away; and still itís easy to relate to what he sings. There’s magic in the music and the message.

While I’m no music critic (except if you ask my kids), I dearly love music. From Handel, Vivaldi and Strauss (not exactly sing-along types), to oldies, rock and pop; yes, even Barry Manilow-l love music. And I love Jim’s music.

lnterviewing Jim for this artide, we talked about what drives lyrics, poetry and music. For Jim, and many other artists, the very best material usually comes from the intensely emotional-and often painful-experiences inherent to this life. Jim’s first two albums, Legacy of Harmony and Familiar Strangers, cover a lot of emotional ground-finding and losing love; estrangement from a parent; the turmoil of hard decisions that have to be made, and dealing with the consequences of those decisions; feeling totally alone; examining the “what-if” side of life. If I had to choose one word to describe Jim’s lyrics, it would be poignant (per Webster: emotionally touching or moving).

The music, on the other hand, runs the gamut: sometimes haunting, sometimes ebullient, sometimes pensive, sometimes clearly born of loneliness; Jim speaks on some level to everyone who has dealt with the ups and downs of life.

The music selections I got to sneak preview from Jim’s third, The Captain, are something of a departure from his earlier releases. The music is broader; more expansive. The lyrics make it clear that Jim’s life course has taken him through experiences that have produced personal growth, taking on a new level of maturity, both in content, and in the way they’re presented. For this album, Jim will also be tapping into the musical ability that runs in his family, including songs written by his sister, Karolyn Kay Gaines.

Looking at the evolution of Jim’s recorded music, you could almost say that the first two albums depict the process of working through life’s disappointments, shattered expectations, and an occasional fleeting dance with joy. The latest album reveals more of a man who is coming to terms with life-it may not be exactly the way he’d pictured it years ago, and that its starting to be OK; its all experience on which to grow.

One of the indicators of growing maturity in the new album is the shift from in-your-face personal experiences, moving beyond personal, and reading outward; the new songs demonstrate a recognition that at some point, we need to change our focus to outside ourselves. When we do, not only do we realize that we’re really not alone; we also come to see that in reaching out to lift and comfort others, we learn to fly.

What the Lovin’ Spoonful* said back in the ’60s could be Jim’s mantra today, “The magic’s in the music, and the music’s in me. Ahh so do you believe in magic?” I do.

Do You Believe in Magic? 1965, Kama Sutra
© Copyright 1999-2017 D. Berrett, The Word Sculpter All Rights Reserved.

Debbie Berrett
The Word Sculpter

James F. Wright’s voice is sweet and grainy, all raw sugar.

Wright enjoys “story songs.” He’s at ease with a guitar in his hands. He’s gone to great lengths to develop a unique voice and style.

He recently sunk a great deal of time, talent and capital into a CD that he hopes will pay off big time. And big time means more than Utah. He’s looking at the world.

To increase the chances of that, Wright has assembled a garden variety of songs for this CD that will appeal to a variety of tastes. The album is called “The Captain” the title cut with the potpourri of material loosely held together by a nautical theme. There is the song “Ship of Dreams,” with words by Senator Orrin Hatch and music by the respected Christian tunesmith, Lowell Alexander. “Watching the River Run,” a catchy Loggins & Messina number is included, as is “Overboard,” a song by three of country music’s most noteworthy songwriters, T. Graham Brown, Wayland Holyfield and Verlin Thompson.

“The Captain” was written by Wright’s sister, Karolyn Kay Danielson. For good measure, Wright has also slipped in several of his personal compositions, including the touching tribute “Like a Man,” and a reprise of his signature composition, “Roses.” Hatch adds another number, “If Only,” to the mix.

Greg Hansen did the arrangements, adding some nice Celtic-sounding hornpipe to the accompaniment. And Wright’s corps of back-up people is strong, featuring names like Mike Dowdle, Felicia Sorenson and Roger Hoffman.

It’s music the singer has called “power folk music.” This is Wright’s third album. “Legacy of Harmony” and “Familiar Strangers” garnered good reviews, but didn’t make a significant commercial splash. That may change with “The Captain.” For one thing, Wright has been through plenty of trials and errors now a decade on the road with three different bands, and his voice feels more wizened and wise. Add to that a new romance and new direction in life and you get the freshness. For a pro, singing is never about melodies, it’s about your life, where you’ve been and what you’ve been. The best the Sinatra’s and, yes, the Rogerses can lay every tragedy and triumph into a phrase. Wright has been learning that craft for years. He now has it down. “I don’t know,” he says, “maybe my time is coming.” Or maybe, it’s already here.

Jerry Johnston, Deseret News

In The local pop market, Jim Wright is known as “The Voice.” It’s an apt though unoriginal nickname. Country’s Vern Gosdin is called “The Voice.” But when you’re a pop singer with great pipes, you soon realize the good names are gone: The Velvet Fog, Old Blue Eye’s, The King.

Wright may have to content himself with being Jim Wright. And after listening to his new CD “Familiar Strangers” you may decide it is not a bad thing to be.

Wright is a talent and a major talent. And for a first CD, “Familiar Strangers” is strong and impressive. Yet even though the singer gives his all, listeners might come away wanting more. What would this man with the golden throat do with a classic tune? (imagine him on a Bernstein number.) Perhaps some day we’ll know. For now “Familiar Strangers” is a good introduction to the singer and his songs. And just one listen to the song “Roses” is enough to let the world know we’ll be hearing from him.

Jerry Johnston, Deseret News