"It don’t have to be high drama / Homeric in plot / We can’t summon up enough poetry to save us". Upon listening to his new album, Calico Jim, it would be an understatement to suggest that James Bradshaw has a way with the word.
Under the guise of his project Pony Bradshaw, the native Georgian conjures accounts of rural history, past and present, so to comprehend how we can live more enriched lives in the future. While such themes are highly prevalent in the scheme of song-writing, Bradshaw presents them with such curiosity and colour, that it's near impossible to not get lost in his words and come out of them with clarity and conviction.
Bradshaw's infatuation with capturing the stories and narratives that can slowly seep from within a very present moment crafts a natural, spontaneous hue across Calico Jim. While the very character of each individual he envisions is subtly revealed with each turn of phrase - to point where they increasingly feel more tangible - almost approachable - they represent a unified spirit, an overwhelming notion of faith or pride, misconception or trust. "Every other weekend the boys are here / breaking off limbs and sharpening up spears / proud to be a hillbilly, 6th generation / but we ain’t no white trash".
Bradshaw uses his music to not only observe those around him, but the places within which they all find themselves - indistinctly shaping the very setting of their desires and memories. "There’s still a union of serpents near Nickajack Lake / An Appalachian marvel of witness and claim / Thus spoke the fool who took up the book / Cocksure with charm he was landing them hooks", he mutters with his unwavering drawl through "Hillbilly Possessed", weaving narratives of wonder and surrealism - a wily raconteur of fable and lore. It's with his balance of recollections and other-worldly imagery that Bradshaw is able to encapsulate his understanding of the true world around him; "Sweating out the milkweed in Rabun County / We were born from the myth don’t you ever doubt it / On the slaughter bench of history gasping for air / Sequoyah plays lacrosse with a ball made of hair".
Such power as a storyteller can undermine the collaboration of sound that accompanies the words, yet here there's no threat of that. Over long hours, Bradshaw and his close compadres preciously knit together less of a sound, more of a collective understanding - conducting with unspoken consideration and vulnerability so to respect the power of creative tradition. The record eases and swells with Bradshaw's direction - at once harmonious, it veers into stark and isolated territory so to once again enhance his already vivid dreams. It paints a beautifully natural and grounded sound, one of Appalachian wonder and convention - that of appreciating what and who is around you, in a continuous attempt to be at one with your surroundings.
Pony Bradshaw is conceiving a wonderful scrapbook of stories and souvenirs - his power as both a songwriter and storyteller allows him not only to craft wondrous tales of belief and acceptance, but succeed in finding both a physical and metaphorical place of solace within the world he inhabits. With Calico Jim, Bradshaw has created a sentimental treasure chest to delve within.
Calico Jim, the new album from Pony Bradshaw, is out this Friday (1/29) via Black Mountain Music. The album is exclusively streaming this week here at Holler, where you can listen below.
Photography by Bekah Jordan.