Jemima James – At Longview Farm
At Longview Farm, a ten song album written and recorded in 1979, was intended as Jemima James’ debut release. The album was shelved, but James retained the tapes over the intervening years. James, the great-granddaughter of American spiritualist William James and great-grandniece of iconic novelist Henry James, went on to marry, start a family, and pursue a variety of career paths over the years. Her son Willy Mason, primed to sign with Team Love Records, shared the story of his mother’s time working at Longview Farm Studios with an assortment of 70’s titans and the long mothballed album that she cut in the decade’s final year. The label pursued the recordings and the result is the rediscovery of one of the 1970’s lost gems.
“Sensible Shoes” has a sturdy structure that makes sense throughout and a surprising pop sensibility. The latter serves notice to listeners that this isn’t some purist exercise; instead, James pulls from an assortment of styles throughout the entirety of the album and often seamlessly blends them together. The melodic strength of the music is high in the first song and remains so on the second “Havana Cigar”. James, however, abandons the pop flavor of the opener in favor of a much more traditional approach. The pop merits return on the light folk rock number “Easy Come, Easy Go”. James deserves a lot of applause for her ability at taking common place clichés like this song title and wringing fresh, often personal, meaning from them. The bluesy and country music strains coloring “Book Me Back in Your Dreams” takes At Longview Farm in a much more rootsy direction than the earlier songs and the band ably handles the distinctly different tone without ever jarring the listener.
“One More Rodeo” is another good example of James’ songwriting skills. The lyrics are never high-flown pseudo poetry but, instead, they possess plain-spoken, conversational eloquence and, even when their tenor darkens, James delivers them with a generosity of spirit that draws listeners in. The song “Jackson County” finds her Americana influences rising to the surface once again, particularly those in the country music spectrum. She isn’t a mere imitator at any point – instead, James does what the best songwriters and performers do. She mines the rich tradition she works in, but everything is filtered through her skill set and experiences in such a way that it emerges as something much more than tribute. “Billy Baloo” is a surprisingly rousing number for so late on the album, but it’s deliberate pacing and dueling lead vocals makes it quite a delightful inclusion. The album’s last song strikes a memorable contrast with its predecessor. “Water at the Station” is a much more conventional singer/songwriter cut in the mold of earlier songs like “Havana Cigar”.
It’s stories like Jemima James’ that suggest a bit of destiny might shape our fates. No matter the reason that At Longview Farm never saw the light of day all those years ago, it’s now reaching its intended audience and hasn’t lost any of its immediacy. These are songs cut from the heart and delivered with unadorned artistry. Jemima James deserved a place among the premier talents of her generation and, perhaps, she will now earn the artistic respect that circumstance temporarily deprived her of long ago.
9 out of 10 stars