"Singer-songwriter Darrin James touches on Robbie Robertson's gruff soulfulness, Tom Waits' vaudevillian menace and Paul Westerberg's ramshackle charm…"
Time Out New York
Darrin James was born in Kentucky, raised in Metro-Detroit, and spent a formative decade in New York City, honing his skills as a producer, guitarist and singer-songwriter, before returning to Michigan in 2010. His musical style is as varied as his background as it draws on his love of the blues and folk music of the south, the Motown soul and classic rock n' roll rawness of Detroit, and the eclecticism and immediacy of Brooklyn, where he developed his stage and song repertoire as a member of the burgeoning indie singer-songwriter scene from 2000 to 2010. In New York Darrin assembled a stellar roster of Brooklyn musicians, and in 2006 James released his debut album, Thrones of Gold, which earned a wealth of positive reviews in the press, as well as radio and television exposure. James' gravelly vocals and thought-provoking lyrics generated immediate comparisons to Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan. One of the most popular songs on the album, "Had Enough of Me," features a growling James on piano and a shredding tenor sax solo by the great Colin Stetson, who appeared on the Tom Waits records, Alice and Orphans. Time Out NY praised, "Brooklyn singer-songwriter Darrin James touches on Robbie Robertson's gruff soulfulness, Tom Waits' vaudevillian menace and Paul Westerberg's ramshackle charm." The Deli Magazine reported, "The man's got Joe Henry versatility, a crackerjack studio band and a great sense of craft…from a Lovett/Waits blues into a John Prine diatribe then rocketing off with an Elvis Costello pop gem." The lyrics of the bluegrass-tinged title track, "Thrones of Gold," were published in American Songwriter magazine. The beatnik blues "Crazy World" was placed on the Emmy-nominated reality TV sensation, The Deadliest Catch, in which the haunting organ and jagged guitar riffs of "Crazy World" create a dark, swirling backdrop for the increasingly crazy crew on the boat who is suffering from "Bering Sea Dementia."
Darrin James Band's second album, The Lovely Ugly Truth, was released in 2009, and builds upon his ensemble of New York's finest players, including a killer horn section made up of Stuart Bogie, Kelly Pratt, and Aaron Johnson, who have graced the recent records of Antibalas, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, TV on the Radio, Beirut and Arcade Fire. The album is filled with parables that illustrate moral dilemmas and regret, and it touches on the archetypal American song genres: outlaw stories, murder ballads, gospel soul, Chicago blues, blue collar rock, and even a contemporary protest song that confronts the immigration debate through a New Orleans ragtime funk. "I have always loved sad songs, and I find myself drawn to write from a tragic character's point of view," explained James. Again, the reviewers embraced the album. Pittsburg Daily News gave it four stars, stating, "The talented singer/songwriter and his Darrin James Band mates don't fit neatly into any musical category. There are elements of rock, folk, country and blues evident throughout fantastic sophomore release The lovely Ugly Truth, "the 12 songs gathered here are uniformly strong…You'll have a hard time finding a song you don't like — and that doesn't happen very often." .Jezebel Music in Williamsburg wrote "The Lovely Ugly Truth is such an enjoyable track: raucous, bluesy, and obviously classic, a composite piece of rock and roll. James has a such smokey gruff voice that it seems it would have been a rejection of his own birthright not to sing the blues." Vintage Guitar Magazine praised the album, "Saying James fits the mold of great songwriters could too easily have him fall by the wayside, like many others who have gone that route. But, given his writing, singing, and playing talents, that's unlikely."
In 2010 James moved back to Ann Arbor, MI where he had attended University of Michigan in the late 90s. He immediately connected with musicians in Ann Arbor, a unique, liberal college-town with a great history of jazz, blues and folk music. James didn't fit in right away to the pre-existing scene there, but he set up a state-of-the-art studio on Main Street, and a new scene sprouted up almost overnight. Since opening the studio in 2012 James has produced countless recording sessions with a wide array of artists and musicians, creating a sort of melting pot studio and label, Ravine Records. James again attracted the top talent from both Michigan and New York to work with him on new recordings, and 2014 saw the release of a new single, Bombs Away, which is a Fela Kuti Afrobeat inspired call-and-response groove that calls out our government for projecting power through violence around the world. His lyrics are again provocative "Unmanned drones, no-fly zones….Bombs Away, Big Mistake." The full album, titled Strange Storm, is set to be released in October, 2016. Featuring Thornetta Davis, Detroit's "Queen of the Blues," on supporting vocals and a stellar line-up of musicians from both Michigan and Detroit, Darrin James's 3rd full length album explores themes of today's climate of constant violence, blatant greed, religious hypocrisy and political chaos. "Strange Storm" takes on new meanings as James' music journeys through eclectic landscapes and influences from Woody Guthrie-inspired folk, to afrobeat, blues, and rock n' roll.