Sometimes I love having this blog so very much. Most of the time, it is when I happen upon new music, something I didn't even know existed. I have to admit I experienced that feeling when I first hit play on a new CD I got from Fontaine James, a New Yorker with a style that is hard to categorize. But I got a Facebook message from James, mentioning out singer/songwriter Jeffery Straker, so my interest was piqued. He asked for my address, and soon I had a physical CD in my hands, eager to be heard. So I obliged.
Before I get to the music, I must mention the packaging for 'The Odd Fellows Hall' is pretty stunning. It has the vintage carny feel, but with a current tone. It is beautifully styled, without a hint of schtick. The art direction is amazing, making me even more interested in putting the disc in and hitting play. And when I did, I heard the muffled sounds of an audience in the big top as the band begins to play. There is a nostalgic bent, both in the sound of the music, and the lyrical content. "Heading to the Moon" captures a story, much like a film short, fleshed out with lyrics that both capture a tone as well as communicate the tale. And once the second track beings, we learn each song is more a short story, an F. Scott Fitzgerald vignette, with layers of story, and lots of flavors. "Cigarette" gives a nod to a period, but maintains a current sound and feel. The lyrics are prose-like, beautiful and evocative at once. There is a female voice at the top of "Shelly Okay", one that is soon left behind by the brisk pace of the song. He returns to school to illuminate the story of his time with a substitute teacher. That is followed by "Barely There", a charm-drenched tale of a couple with more style than substance. Next up is "Mellow", which you can hear if you hit play...
Next up, "Don't Waste A Smile" leads with a percussive opening, somewhere between Pop and Tribal. The song takes on honesty in relationships, in a fresh way. "Kaleidoscope" begins with a strong feeling of the 1960s, of 'Valley of the Dolls', with a winsome instrumentation, and delicious harmonies in the chorus. "Dada" starts with a European feel, something that would fit well with a lovely glass of Merlot. There is something quite alluring about "Rat-Ta-Tat-Ta-Tat", with the guitar-driven verse, and a rather spectacularly retro chorus. What do you think?
"Love Test" is another moody song, feeling a little Beatlesque, in a hallucinogenic kind of way. It captures some aspects of love so damn well. That is followed by the bistro-flavored "Am I Dreaming", feeling very Parisian. I swear I smell the cigarettes and fresh bread mixed with the scent of the Seine. That leaves us with "Everyone I've Ever Met", feeling a bit like a closing soliloquy to the five-act play we've been attending. Like the rest of the album, it has a charm and honesty that seems to be the cornerstone of Fontaine's music. In fact, the album on the whole is like a collection of short stories, rich in character and deep in narrative. And all that is tied together with a wonderful melodic bow, adding to the rich texture of the collection.
After I have listened to this album time and time again, I am still excited as I listen. This album is a great addition to my music collection. The music manages to do something rare, which is to be hard to categorize, yet remain truly memorable. You can purchase 'The Odd Fellows Hall' on iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon. To learn more about Fontaine James, visit his official website.