It’s exciting to see an artist switch gears. Go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds, from calm to thunder and from soprano to high tenor.
Exciting because the change is often unexpected and takes the listener from slumping in a chair to standing on tiptoe musically.
Brandi Carlile can do it at will, Jason Isbell can too, but step aside for Morgan James who will take you from places you didn’t plan to go to places you’re glad you went, all at the speed of musical light.
“Imagine a voice loud enough to knock you to the ground – and sensitive enough to send shivers down your spine,” wrote Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal.
James considers his appearance at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace on Wednesday, as part of the Guitar Masters concert series, as a homecoming. She was born in Boise, Idaho, but attended middle and high school in Modesto where she discovered music, sang in her first choir, hired a vocal coach, and sang in musicals. Although she never performed in Bakersfield, there is a level of comfort in performing on the road where she laid her musical groundwork.
“We envision the March 16 show as a celebration of the return to live music,” James said from her home in the Bronx, where she lives with her husband, collaborator and musical director Doug Wamble.
“We can’t wait for the people of Bakersfield to hear our amazing band.”
James can sing any song – original or cover – and his musical range is amazing.
“Ms. James is a phenomenal talent with a deep sense of classic soul music,” wrote New York Times music critic Stephen Holden.
She’s like a five-tool baseball player who can hit for power, bunt, play defense, lead the bases, and inspire her teammates, or in this case, her bandmates.
James is charming, a great musician, and looks equally at home on a nightclub bandstand or on a Broadway stage in “Guys and Dolls.”
The Wall Street Journal called James “the most promising young singer so far in this century”.
Guitar Masters founder Rick Kreiser is jazzy to say the least:
“I first discovered Morgan’s incredible voice when someone shared a video of her performing with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, a rotating troupe of musicians who specialize in ‘transformation’. from today’s pop hits to classic sounds from yesterday’s legends”. the song was “All About That Bass” and I was hooked.”
James has had an interesting journey. She grew up listening to Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Prince and Aretha Franklin. After earning a degree in classical music from the Juilliard School and performing in the original companies of five Broadway productions, James began writing and recording his own music.
A meeting with Berry Gordy Jr. led to a recording contract at Epic Records, where she recorded and released a solo album Hunter in 2014, and three more thereafter. James recorded and released a full cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album as well as The Beatles’ “White Album” in 2018 to celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary.
Favorite current singers include Chris Stapleton, Susan Tedeschi, Jazmine Sullivan and Samara Joy, and she has always had a love for Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. When you close your eyes and hear her sing, it’s like she’s channeling the great soul singers.
“I feel like I’m part of the soul music bloodline. My driving force throughout my creative process is ‘What would Aretha say? said James. “What would Otis say? This music is me: classical elements, timeless melodies and lyrics. We need it now. We need real music more than ever.
The music industry being what it is, it had its ups and downs, but after leaving Epic Records, she took charge of her career on the business and music side by connecting with fans on YouTube, where it amassed over 250 million views.
The pandemic has been brutal for most musicians as they haven’t been able to perform live for two years, but James has fared better than most.
“We’ve been doing online shows every Saturday during the pandemic,” James said. “We were able to pay our rent by doing this.”
More concerts on the bill
James, his fellow musicians, his fans, and Guitar Master’s Kreiser hope that 2022 will see the return of live music. This will be season #10 for Guitar Masters, and Kreiser has planned a 10-show season featuring fan favorites like Joe Robinson, Tommy Emmanuel, and The Black Market Trust, as well as new faces (at least for our fans) like Morgan James.
“One of the most rewarding things for me is watching the audience and seeing the smiles on their faces as they appreciate the talents of someone they hadn’t heard of before the show,” said Kresier.