Graeme James – Field Notes on an Endless Day (Nettwerk)

On Field Notes on an Endless Day, multi-instrumentalist Graeme James uses a wide variety of folk instruments to create soundscapes that accentuate his stories set in summer.

This is the final release in a quadrilogy of season based EPs that he started last year from his new home base in the Netherlands. The EP was completed on his current trip back to New Zealand where he, like us, is currently experiencing winter weather rather than the warm long days of summer.

James first came to attention with his fiddle and loop based busking performances in Wellington that were subsequently captured on the two covers albums Play One We All Know (2013) and Play One We All Know Volume II (2014). These were followed by two self penned albums, News from Nowhere (2016) and The Long Way Home (2019) and his move to the Netherlands to reach the larger markets in the Northern Hemisphere.

The release of this series of EPs has reflected the start of Northern Hemisphere’s seasons. The series began with the autumn themed Old Storms in New Places (September 2020), this was followed by The Weight of Many Winters  ( January 2021) and then spring’s A Sea of Infinite Possibilities (April 2021). We now have the final season, summer, with this release, Field Notes on an Endless Day.

Overall the sound of Field Notes on an Endless Day is meditative and calm, stretching out like summer days, but it starts with the upbeat The Tallest Tree. This track uses jaunty guitars and mandolin tremolo to create a light, folk – pop summer soundtrack which you could dance to.

Angel of St George is more representative of the sound of the EP and is based on the slow pick and strum of Celtic folk guitar. The lyrics are about a trip to Venice that James “never wanted to end.” The theme of the song is a holiday experience of finding, or rediscovering, something positive about yourself. The music and the clear vocals combine to create a reflective piece about preserving that holiday discovery.

Throughout the EP the music, lyrics and vocals create a link from the inner world of feelings to the outer world of nature. In particular the power of nature and the sea are key to several songs. Await the Tide has a mournful sounding accordion, ghostly vocals and ends with the sounds of seagulls. Jazzy snare drum, picked bass notes and the light strum of strings create a pensive atmosphere on Close to You as the lyrics tell of survival together despite a raging storm and ships being wrecked.

The Wild is a powerful ode to the outdoors, mortality and our sense of place. The track has ringing strings and a steady drum shuffle as James sings about confronting death, finding new life and meeting his true love. The dynamics of the music move from light to dark and back intensifying the emotions evoked by the lyrics.

The track, Field Notes on an Endless Day creates a feeling of time stretching out on long summer days by the combination of vocals, mandolin and piano over brushed drums. Although not as dramatic as The Wild the contemplative lyrics are powerful and understated, “I was happy just to be there when time stood still.”

The title track’s sense of the slow passing of time is evoked by the EPs cover art which is a black and white drawing of a woman sitting on a swing, suspended from a tree overlooking the sea. The art used for all the EPs was drawn for the songs by James, The covers have the same attention to detail as the music and lyrics to create a coherent package where each part complements the others.

James and family are still in New Zealand and he is playing solo gigs around the country. There are August dates in New Plymouth, Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland. These will be great opportunities to hear how James uses his busking experience to recreate the songs live, to reflect on the impact of the seasons on our lives and to feel a bit of the warmth of the current northern hemisphere summer.

John Bradbury

Click here to watch the 13th Floor MusicTalk interview with Graeme James.

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