Seven Songs is the first collection from James's new archival release project, Lost Songs from the Rusting Shed of Disappeared Guitars.
"I'm really excited by this first tape... I found it just this year, it was just a 5 inch reel, unlabeled, in a brown paper bag. Nobody, not me, not anyone, had heard it since 1973. I'd totally forgotten recording any of this.... that there even was a tape.... and half the songs I have no recollection of writing.... or I had only a dim memory and a sense of loss.... nothing else, not even scribbled pages of lyrics. I was only 20 years old when I recorded these and the performances are very rough but for me, there's a kind of promise about the songs themselves.... they feel solid, they have intent, and I'm glad I've decided to share them...."
These solo acoustic tracks, all original songs, were recorded when James was 20 and were composed between 1970, when a poetry loving high school student decided to learn guitar and write songs, and October 1973 when this collection was taped, during James's final year of a Literature degree at the Australian National University.
It's early work, but the lyrics already contain the rich imagery, poetic connections, vivid stories and vignettes, literary crafting of language, the fascination with the ways we are in the world, our struggles to know ourselves, that still characterize James's songwriting. And the sophistication of the deceptively simple song structures belies the self-taught and isolated musical road James was travelling then.
"To enter (James's) world is to enter worlds within worlds, like a collection of snow domes where each one you shake takes you into a new bubble that keeps changing yet somehow stays connected. Where phrases become characters with a life as real as if they were people. Where songs are not only self referential but inter-referential and intra-referential, so maybe a character is someone like Nico or a truck driver who sings Elvis songs or a bush uncle or (the racehorse) Phar Lap or Muhammad Ali; maybe a phrase sounds like Tom Waits but then it's pure Australian outback and then it's inner city bleak, bleak as the news of the death of a friend...."
Jackey Coyle, Rhythms Magazine, 2004
Early touches of this unique vision are already evident on Seven Songs. The performances of these first songs, delivered in just 35 minutes, in one continuous recording, including an interview, are rough around the edges and the recording, with one hand held microphone and a portable tape player, is rough too, but 40 years later they offer a fascinating and captivating opportunity to share the first steps of a life-long love affair with song.
"I like the way a song can be similar to, but never the same as, and sometimes bigger than, a poem, a short story, a movie, a play, a ballad, a monologue, a joke, a diary, a newspaper, a speech, an incantation, a dance, a ritual, a TV program or a dream – and of course there's the added beautiful and mysterious ingredient of music that transforms all the other elements into that singular something we call a song... "
James Griffin, Thinking About Perpetual Motion: an Essay on Songwriting, 2003
There's variety in Seven Songs too. Themes range from a meditation on confusions faced by any student/teacher/would-be artist learning about other creative lives while dreaming of an artistic life of one's own (Audience), through a portrait of a group of friends lost in desire, searching for love and belonging, yearning for connection yet backing away from commitment (Ragtime), to a love song acknowledging that loneliness, isolation and longing are the inevitable flip-sides of joyous attraction, as young travelers and lovers drift in and out of each others' lives (Someone Like You).
And along the way, there are satires: on the assembly-line work place, TV advertising lies, the absurdity of our love affair with cars (Since the Wheel); politicians celebrating war while denying human rights (The Ballad of the Two Johns); and romantic tales of magical horses (Song For Calamity Jane) and post-pagan, minstrel-like figures inspired to make a better world (Jew's-harp Michael Mandolin).
Seven Songs is available from James's Store.
All tracks available digitally from Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Deezer, Pandora, YouTube Music, Tidal, Groove Music (Microsoft) from Sept 1st 2017.