I found Graydon James and the Young Novelists how I find a lot of artists on the bountiful supply of new music that is bandcamp. Initially blown away by the songwriting and harmonies, I couldn’t wait to get a copy of In the Year You Were Born. I can safely say the album fulfills my high expectations.
Jumping off from an uptempo opening track, “I was a young man’s son” has the ethereal hard-working ethic typical of the country music root James and company use as their base. It’s really the kind of concept that a lot of people have experienced, but few would think to write about. He’s a young man’s son, meaning having young parents really influenced his life. Throughout the track there are several references to hard work and perseverance. Good stuff.
“In Your Defense” is precisely the kind of song that brought me to this band in the first place. Starting with a wonderful two-part male-female harmony and a nice driving pop rock rhythm, the song gets toes tapping from the outset. More rock than country, this song reminds listeners of the Spring Standards and their musical antecedent, Fleetwood Mac. It’s a great song and the guitars are just prominent enough to make the overall sound really click. The vocal blending on the bridge is so phenomenal that it puts it in conversation for track… not just of the album… but of the year. If this band is so talented that they can layer vocals like that, why not do it on every track?!
“Standing Still” is a stripped down track that puts a smile on my face. The beginning is almost Civil Wars worthy. As the full band comes in, the sound becomes a little more “early 90s country music.” It’s a break up song… or maybe a song that reflects on a bygone relationship. It’s sad, but sincere, so it works with the sound. In a similarly reflective vein, “Smalltown Hymns” also keeps things slow. Again the vocals shine over the track. The lyrics on the chorus are particularly inspiring, from my perspective. “And it begins with these small-town hymns carrying through your heart and all your limbs.” It’s just sweet and delightful. It’s not even about “hymns” per se, but values and ideals that permeate who we are. What a wonderful sentiment.
The waltz “It Takes All Kinds” has pop country music written all over it. Seriously from the vocal blends to the guitar licks, it’s got the whole package. If I had any contacts in Nashville, I’d send them this track for immediate air play. It’s a modern country song, complete to its theme. The artist is singing to someone about a relationship gone wrong, apologizing, and knowing his apology doesn’t make it any easier. Whew. Bartender, pour me ‘nother.
The beginning of “Left Behind” again gives me a glimpse into what I think is this band’s strong suit; vocal blending and simple, effective melodies. They even sneaked in a subtle organ backing part. Good call! The minor chord turns and group harmonies make this track feel simultaneously like it “soars” but also keeps it grounded. Again I’m put in the mind of a Fleetwood Mac kind of feeling, although with a different vocal dynamic. It’s a good song, and another contender for best on the album.
“Long, Long, Long” is another wonderful slower track. The complimentary guitar and piano work great here. I wonder how it might sound with the female lead. (If you try it, please send it to me!) But the track works in its sound, but the lyrics are satisfyingly dark. It might be about original sin, or at very least about the brokenness of the earthly experience. The bridge is poignant, “violent lives if we survive… vacate the constant past… each one will last…” In short, it’s difficult to avoid the pain and tragedies of our past. Heavy.
I’ve skipped a few tracks in the review here, but I can assure you all that there are no “skip” tracks on this album. Although a little more country than I originally anticipated, the album is an overall delight. As I mentioned above, the strength of Graydon James and the Young Novelists is their vocal blending. I favor the softer, simpler songs but that’s probably my own preference over the abilities of the band. They’re a great choice for fans of popular country or cross-over pop and country. Fans of contemporary country artists like Vince Gill or Martina McBride will enjoy this album.