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JAMES IRWIN – “WESTERN TRANSPORT”
James Irwin is not a typical singer/songwriter. Perhaps this is obvious, given his giant melting face. This image, the album cover of his debut Western Transport, is fitting: the James Irwin we hear on this album is no person, but a voice seemingly severed from its source; a flat, tempered force that invokes, directs, and sustains.
With Western Transport, Irwin presents a cohesive tribute to the overwhelmed and underfed: the lost lovers and consumed; roles rarely acknowledged, often too close for comfort. With this delicate context, Irwin chooses to emphasize the holding of moments over their resolve, using striking imagery and artful nuance to powerful, distilling effect.
It’s a wonderfully lyrical album, far outside what I might expect from an unknown voice. But Irwin is not exactly an unknown artist: attentive readers may recognize his unique cadence and tone from a decade of published stories and poems.
As a collection of songs, Western Transport shows influence from folk, pop, country, and poetry. Considered arrangements create uncannily familiar moods, elevating lyrical themes and ultimately showing an impressive and effective sonic pallet. Also present is a spatial and temporal awareness: Irwin displays a prowess in opening spaces for words to come to life and narratives to unfold (“Hearts Like Old Cars”, ”Anyone to Serve”).
A rich yet directed production reminiscent of Bill Callahan or Will Oldham makes Western Transport well-suited for easy listening and atmosphere, but it absolutely shines when given full attention. It is a rare debut: one that not only marks the entrance of a new voice, but broadens what I look for in an album.
How much do I like this album? A whole lot. You will, too. Check out:
- “Blue Dust”
- “Halfway to Mexico”