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Susan James

Highways Ghosts Hearts & Home

(Susan James Music; US: 15 Feb 2011; UK: 15 Feb 2011)

Country troubadour doesn't quite get it right

LA-based Susan James is a country-folkie troubadour whose songs involve the familiar jangly guitars, peppy rhythm section and bouncy lyrics. Her voice is the crucial element, though, and it’s unexpectedly watery for someone billed as a singer-songwriter-guitarist triple threat. Highways Ghosts Hearts & Home‘s opening track, “Airstream Girl,” is toe-tappingly likeable enough, but the thinness of James’s voice prevents it from being anything more than that. The same could be said of many of these tunes. James often teeters alarmingly on the edge of sharpness or flatness, although some songs make use of her limited register more effectively than others. “Out in the Woods” is an example of a track that succeeds in spite of the singer, rather than because of her, and slower tune “On Your Side” is quite pretty. Overall, though, the vocals are the weakest link on this record, which is precisely what shouldn’t be the case on an album like this.


DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.

Susan James - "Old Jug Song" Live
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