Darrin James “See Right Through”

Ravine Records, 2024

Regional star Darrin James shines in new release ‘See Right Through’

Out beyond the bright lights of Nashville, Austin and the other centres of Americana is a whole constellation of regional musical stars.  Darrin James is a great example. He’s no newcomer to the world of music.  ‘See Right Through’ is his fifth album, having released three with the Darrin James Band, and one with his instrumental jazz-funk project, ‘Disaster Relief.’ Born in Kentucky and raised in the Detroit area, James spent the first part of this century in Brooklyn, New York building a reputation for his singing, songwriting and live performances with the band.

In 2010 James moved back to Michigan. Since then, he has established himself as a performer, writer and producer in a slightly different key. Ravine Records, which he started in 2014, produces and releases musical collaborations including with Detroit’s “Queen of the Blues,” Thornetta Davis. But even if you knew nothing about James’ history it’s clear that ‘See Right Through’ was written by someone who has paid his dues, both as a musician and as a human being.

James is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays guitar, piano, organ, and synth on ‘See Right Through’. He is joined by the Darrin James Band rhythm section, which is made up of Brennan Andes on bass and Rob Avsharian on drums. And for a bit of that Motown sound, he has added Tim Haldeman on tenor sax.  They’re a great foundation for James’s gravelly but clear voice. And it is all brought together by Marc Daniel Nelson, who handled the mixing.  The result goes down as easily as the longboats sliding down the Detroit River headed to Lake Erie. It has a solid Americana sound with elements of folk, rock, country and there is more than a perfunctory nod to its Motor City roots.

It’s obvious that these guys earned their chops playing thousands of gigs in bars and clubs, and that these are songs written by someone who lived the life he describes. You can’t write a song like ‘Born For One Love’ unless you’ve been with the same person for over 20 years (James met his wife when they were students at university and they’ve been together ever since.)  The deep emotion of these lines is palpable: There is but one love in my heart/ No chance that I will ever leave/ Through many lifetimes I would stay/ Just to wake with you each day.” Unless you’ve lost friends who you’ve known for years, it would probably be difficult to dredge up the sense of loss that comes through in ‘Old Friends’.  “Though many years have passed behind / Those days are so clear in my mind / Then we all went our separate ways / We had our own loves our own dreams to find.”  These are songs of pain, loss and fear. The pain that is unavoidable, the loss that is inevitable and the fear of the unknowable. And yet, they are also the songs of someone who carries on, regardless. In ‘Slips Away’, James sings: ”I’ve been defeated so many times I won many battles But I lost the war Who will pay for all our crimes? Do we remember what were we fighting for?”

Fortunately, the album isn’t only about nostalgia, an emotion that Dylan allegedly once dismissed as “death.”  These are songs for people who are alive, joyously, doggedly, despite everything.

See Right Through by Darrin James


About Michael Macy 49 Articles
Grew up in the American Midwest and bounced around a bit until settling in London. Wherever I've been, whatever I have done, has been to sound of Americana. It is a real privilege to be part of this site, discover new music and write about it.
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