5 out of 5 Stars! Amazon
James Hurley's Voice & Guitar has excellent songwriting, performed in a deceptively simple way -- literally, just voice and guitar, but so well done!
I love the blues influences here, such as on "Sugar" and "Walk Away" (which is less traditional blues); many of the other tracks have a strong traditional folk influence. The lyrics are very intelligent and somewhat wry, such as "When You Fall," about falling in love, and "I'm With You," which reminds me of Cole Porter. And "The Dream is You" is just a lovely, romantic song.
This album is highly recommended for anyone who likes smart lyrics and skillful musicianship -- or modern folk in general.
If you're wondering where the old 60s folk music vibe went, especially as translated into early 70s experimentations careful not to forsake troubadoric and madrigalian antecedents along with all that came between, then you need to check out James Hurley, 'cause Voice and Guitar is an exceedingly strong statement in the modus, reliant only upon his vocals and a guitar. Albums like this have always been a rarity, and Voice shows why: you'd better have your shit 100% together or you're going to crash and burn. An orchestra may be a bear to master and shape, but the ancient one-voice one-instrument approach to music is still the bottom-line toughest, requiring inhuman confidence and surpassing acumen. Hurley has both nailed and with a ton of warmth and humanity.
Let me start with Whisper, a laid-back cross between Sinatra, Tormé, and Chet Baker, gently strummed chords and gentle lead lines sauntering right beside James' airy encanting and crooning. The fusion of folk and light jazz is unmistakable, each the companion to the other. Sugar, on the other hand, is a cool blues very much mindful of something Bernie Pearl would write, the singing quite reminiscent of Pearl as well. Though you won't hear it in the music here, Hurley was very influenced by Jefferson Airplane, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Big Brother & the Holding Company, even Led Zeppelin…especially Stairway to Heaven. It was that song which in fact turned the page after a competitive rodeo accident early in his life. In 7-1/2 seconds, flying from saddle to Mother Earth, Hurley understood, lying injured in the dirt, that Wild West antics weren't really his thing, and the guitar became his boon buddy.
Donovan was one of James' influences, evident every so often, and I catch a good deal of Jessie Colin Young as well, not to mention Harry Chapin's good nature and the upbeat in Jim Croce's playing. Voice and Guitar is cafe music, Village Vanguard fare, a soundtrack for a small intimate gathering in Big Sur. And the recording is pristine, creating a vellum upon which everything is sketched and clarified. This is no fluke. Hurley brought in the engineers, producers, and mastering agents for such diverse musicians as Robben Ford, Michael Jackson, and Aerosmith. The resulting sonics take nothing from and add nothing to the result but instead chart singer and axe perfectly, a lucid vérité entablature of exactly what's there, no gimmicks, no bullshit, no nonsense, just damn good down-to-it music in a mode much too scamped as time progresses.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Review of "Tempest In A Teacup" in Wildy's World
Listening to James Hurley's Tempest In A Teacup, you'd think you were hearing the greatest hits album of an established, major-label singer/songwriter. Instead, Hurley is something of a journeyman guitar player, playing much of the year in small venues in the western US and the UK. Hurley recorded Tempest In A Teacup while on tour, lighting here and there for a day and getting in studio time between Arizona and Washington while on tour. Vacillating between wicked humor and stark poignancy, Hurley spins a master class in the art of story-telling in song that the best-fed minstrel would envy.
Tempest In A Teacup opens with "Mountain", with Hurley sounding like the musical spawn of Mark Knopfler and Colin Hay. Hurley mixes wit and intelligence in a laser-sharp treatise on what we give up to move forward. "What Might've Been" is about forks in the road and the choice between finding out what's ahead or spending your life wondering. Hurley manages to tackle a subject that's been done so many times that the mere thought of it is cliché, yet manages to turn it into a brilliant parable without breaking a sweat. On "Tempest In A Teacup" Hurley laments the human tendency to impress our ideas on others even if it means going to war. The arrangement here is a perfect fit to a brilliant and incisive bit of social commentary that makes both "good guys" and "bad guys" look small.
Hurley shows finesse on "She's The One", a song about the potential of love, and that delicious mix of emotions that comes from infatuation and not knowing where imagination and reality mix to suit both interest and ego. Brilliant is one word you could use, but Hurley manages to capture an essential point of the human condition in song in such an utterly casual manner it's mystifying. Just to mix things up, Hurley throws in "Mushroom" to keep you guessing. It's an entertaining diversion about the insecurities that keep us from moving beyond our own limited world views, and the characterizations will seem fantastic until you realize that he's using allegory to paint characteristics we all share. It's a brilliant, funny and illuminating tune.
For all that can be said about the songs that come before it, "Jealous Of The Moon" may be one of the finest bits of songwriting to cross this desk. Hurley explores the effects that love and insecurity can have on the psyche in a tune that is both serious and ironic at the same time. It's a gorgeous arrangement and an absolutely amazing bit of song craft. Hurley perhaps pays tribute to Paul McCartney on "Long Way Down", with a riff that opens and closes the song that sounds like it might have come from Sir Paul himself. It's an allegorical reflection on loss that will hit home for any who have been there. Ever the entertainer, Hurley changes pace deftly with "The Vampire Song", a whimsical and entertaining song that will make a lot of sense to anyone who doesn't live on the West Coast.
"She Won't Be Down" is a story song about someone who has cocooned themselves away from the world for fear of being hurt. It's a brilliant musical portrait; much to rich to be called a caricature. Hurley turns philosophical on the closing track, "Going Home", telling the story of a prodigal son from his own perspective. Many run away from home and into adulthood to seek their place in the world only to return home years later to finally found what they were searching for. This story, too, has been told many times in song, but Hurley has a gift for taking the mundane and finding the spark within that makes it special.
James Hurley writes songs with the flair of a magician, painting pictures in song so real and vibrant you can nearly touch them. Tempest In A Teacup is quite literally brilliant, shining over and above the pop/rock throng with tuneful, literate songwriting and generous doses of wit. Hurley's voice is eminently listenable and his arrangements are flawless. You'll be listening to this album long after your current flavor of the month has been relegated to your backup hard drive (or traded in for credit). Tempest In A Teacup can only be a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Don't miss it.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
Review of "Tempest in a teacup" by Paul Zollo in America Songwriter Magazine
He’s a songwriter of consequence. There’s a gentle urgency in his work, a sense that this is a man who wants to be heard and should be. There is swing, swagger, and soul. There’s both brain and brawn, a nimble confidence of physicality and spirit. His music is distinctively rhythmic, often syncopated, with grooves that shift-shape into little suites. A warmth and tenderness permeates, as does a sense of joy, even when decrying the madness of modern times, a prevalent theme. “Mountain” cunningly surveys the ways modern man bulldozes through the earth when it’s in the way. “Mushroom” resounds with the fun of creativity itself, the joy of making connections, of indulging in the ecstasy of unbound imagination. He’s an inspired guitarist, with a fluid flair that is never flashy, but always in the service of the song. His songwriting voice is such that even when his conceit is a poetic, abstract one, you follow his lead. Sometimes his songs are visceral and anthemic, sometimes comic. sometimes philosophical, but always distinct. “Jealous of the Moon” is a jewel – a lyrical romp with a delightfully chromatic melody that brings McCartney to mind. And “Long Way Down,” with a great gospel choir interplay, is pure passion and heart. This is strong, soul-sustaining music. - P.Z.
Review of "Tempest"...by Jamie Anderson at Minor 7th Magazine
Just when you think Hurley is one of those acoustic-guitar-wielding-every-song-rocks-out kind of singer-songwriter, he stops you in your tracks with a pleasing ballad like "Jealous of the Moon," with just his voice, guitar and way in the background, a flute. Or the wistful "Going Home," with a touch of harmonica. The remaining songs have a great back beat but not the decibel screeching kind. The quirky "Mushroom" sounds right out of the They Might Be Giants songbook, with its odd musical changes, weird but sing along-worthy lyrics and even a musical saw. In another song he assures us that vampires are from Southern California, complete with a very cool trombone and in another cut, wonders "What Might Have Been." I love the lyrics in "Mountain": "This is where a mountain used to be, we took it down ‘cause it got in the way and you can’t have that... This is where our conscience used to be... We let it go ‘cause it got in the way and you can’t have that." I’ll bet this guy is a hoot in concert. I’ll be there in my cape and fangs. © Jamie Anderson
Music Connection Magazine's take on a couple songs from "Tempest in a Teacup"
Singer/songwriter Hurley knows how to keep things direct and uncluttered, delivering music that's distinctively sweet in its simplicity. "Mountain offers a somber, voice-and-guitar message that questions "progress." Seasoned with flute, "Jealous of the Moon" is another sparse, intimately rendered recording; just an honest acoustic song about love and loss. We were surprised by "The Vampire Song," whose arrangement, featuring and old-tymey brass section, is a disarmingly unique take on the bloodsucker genre.
Indie-Music.com's Jennifer Layton talks about "The Sun and the Moon"
It's refreshing to come across an artist now and then who knows how to strip it down without making it dull. While listening to James Hurley's music, the words that kept coming up in my notes were "simple" and "warm." Yes, he gets experimental at times, mixing in clarinet and cello on "One Fine Day" and conga drums throughout the CD. We also get a tuba on the playful, dancing folk tale "London Bridge," mixed in with the whimsical lyrics. Why not? It works. And it works without sounding cluttered or overshadowing Hurley's smooth, welcoming vocals. I liked each song on this CD. The title track is, again, a warm and simple folk song, this one a celestial romance born of stargazing. I turned into an agent as the CD progressed, listing artists I would ask to cover these tracks. I can hear Clapton taking on "One Man Woman," and Harry Connick Jr. is all over "Whisper." Other tracks, though, are just for Hurley, perfectly suited to his laid-back yet enveloping sound. "In My Dreams," with the lush acoustic arrangment and gentle harmonies, is a good example. Hurley's a romantic softie, and the lyrics of "Whisper" show this side of him mixed with his penchant for the Zen: I sometimes wish I were a wiser man so I could disregard it when some sentimental memory comes to mind. But predictably, I give up the struggle willingly when my heart hears you whisper softly in the night. Listen to this CD while enjoying a meal of bread, cheese, and wine under a starry sky. Unplug the phone. Read some Thoreau. Not only will you have found a much-needed respite, you'll have a new favorite in your CD collection.
Minor 7th magazine's review of "The Sun and the Moon" by Alan Fark
"The Sun and the Moon" is a musical delight in every way. James Hurley owns a rare combination of talents - pop songwriting that is intelligent in its eloquence of lyrics and chordal changes, oh-so-silky vocals and harmonies, an unpretentious jazz-like virtuosity on acoustic guitar, and the guts to lay those talents bare with a very austere production. Like Stephen Bishop's, Hurley's style is up-beat and catchy, but very genuine. Fans of Brian Wilson's "SMiLE" will love the ethereal vocal coda at the end of "In My Dreams." "Whisper" is reminiscent of Kenny Rankin's Brasilian balladry. There's even a Sgt. Pepperish and playful use of tuba on "London Bridge," disclosing a strong Beatles influence that seems ubiquitous to his generation of songwriters.
Singing Songwriter Magazine
Singing Songwriter magazine's Kenny Hart had this to say about "The Sun and the Moon"
"James Hurley’s new CD release, The Sun and the Moon, has just become my top pick for a feel-good-take-my-troubles-away album. This is acoustic-based Adult Contemporary music that has definite Blues and Jazz flavors with a little Folk and Rock thrown in for good measure. Track pick: “One Fine Day” - the perfect song about being glad to be alive."