As an international player, James Dalton may be responsible for more than just the increased airline security and liquor import taxes I have to deal with now. He’s also one of the original purveyors of the East Coast folk movement and is an inspiration for the resurgence here in the Garden State. Bands such as River City Extension, The Marshland Plan and Full Fathom Five have launched phenomenal forward motion in an area that was all but ignored by mundane and morose Americana acts in hot pursuit of Nashville dreams and Tom Petty gold. Most of these guys were in diapers when Dalton was blowing harp and chopping chords on mandolin and guitar in dirty, underrated rooms from Waretown, NJ to Fillmore, Utah.
Moreover, one of the best things about Dalton is his willingness to bring his music to all people. He has never been one of those artists that play the same town month after month, hoping that Seymour Stein will fly in on a magic carpet and magically pluck them from obscurity. He literally makes his own destiny, booking his own national dates, getting on a plane, and playing exotic locales such as Shanghai, London, Croatia and Italy just to name a very select few. His travels have taken him to stages with performers such as Jerry Joseph and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), Ari Hest, Charlie Hunter, Derek Trucks, Voices On The Verge and James McMurtry. And that’s just his solo stuff. As a band member for his newly reunited Secret Sound, he’s traded stages with the late, great Levon Helm, Johnny Winter and Gov’t Mule.
Dalton’s sixth release, Frankonia, is a 16-song love letter to the people of that eastern part of the historic Duchy Of Franconia in Germany. Frankonia explores a myriad of broad stroked portraits that makes James Dalton the go-to guy when it comes to unique compositional ideas to get his point across.
Dalton’s solo presentation is both primitive and poignant. The live setting reminds me of what Springsteen once did with his rebellious release of Nebraska, and his lyrical prose lands somewhere in the gritty, rambling story style of Leon Redbone’s On The Track. Less is more stands skyscraper tall on Frankonia.
With a vocal inflection that moves across the spectrum from melodic to soul crushing holler, Dalton eases into his hillbilly werewolf stance with the practiced determination of a steam locomotive engineer hauling coal out of the Virginia Mountains. Chugging and bleating harmonicas send warning chills up the spine as images of Howling Wolf jump into the crossroads of your mind. Guitars bang and crash between Dalton’s raspy hoots and howls, resonating spruce-topped sounding boards that have taken the brunt of abuse on a thousand smoke-filled stages throughout the world.
My stand out songs includes “Grafton Street,” a rhythmic down stroke growler featuring high and low vocals that tell the story about a Brooklyn street and the musical life that surrounds this hidden locale. Isolation still plays a part on a bustling street life painted quickly by Dalton as the buskers hustle and the age-old plea of “be my sunshine, be my woman on a rainy day” rises from the storm spattered sidewalks in his mind.
“Come Back To The Jersey Shore” addresses the century-old tradition of romance seeking New Yorkers on a vacation scuttle to our haven. Utilizing a familiar 1950s progression coated with smooth and melodic oohs in the tag end make for a perfect effect. Dalton lays the tale of welcome to all curious about our shore world. He howls into the middle, taking the listener down the Jersey coastline and into the sleepy little beach town universe of easy breezy love on the rocks.
“House My Grandfather Built” is a rambling tale of New Jersey tradition and the golden state of reminiscence. Dalton paints a solid portrait about revisiting his Trenton Avenue past. Harmonicas spill golden sunshine down over the top of this tune as Dalton waxes poetic about the house he calls home. A home where his grandfather used to rock on the porch, banjo in hand as the seasons whirled past, the time warp comes full circle as Dalton makes his peace and says his goodbyes.
“Sugar Mama” hisses and spits into life as Dalton rips into his harp style like a demon possessed, utilizing deep drags between grunts and distorted, train track roars as he commands, “Get up those stairs woman, I want you to bang on my door! I want the neighbors to hear! I want the cockroaches in my cupboard to hear!” His outro speeds to the point of blurring time. Dalton’s frenetic harp attack leaves the listener wondering how he can actually breathe between the melodic suffocation of a harp player in his moment.
“Loneliness” is an amazing show of harp expertise. He submerges his breath controlled soul in complex call and response rhythms that woof and roar. I can’t help but picture the devil himself jumping off the barn dance rail to the creaky floorboards for a shadowy hoedown duel with Jesco White.
There are several other great songs on the digital download that I just don’t have room for, but check out the cool, jazzy bounce of “Downtown” and the swampy, Louisiana vibe of “As I Am,” just to name a couple. I would encourage you download Frankonia and make it part of your musical collection. At a mere seven dollars, there’s not a rotten apple in the bunch and it’s an uplifting bargain for the masses.
James Dalton tells me that he is far from finished in his push for imperative substance. In addition to his solo work and the reuniting of his band Secret Side, Dalton is also getting ready to release Clown Cars And Canyons with Dave Trotta and Michael Ronstadt (Linda Ronstadt’s nephew). Moreover, he was recently cast in the Off-Broadway production of Mirror, Mirror, and will be returning to that production sometime in the next year as well as embarking on his one-man show called Shanghai To Memphis, a show that has won him the coveted four stars rating at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
And, of course, you can check out his recent live performance on app.com’s The 66 Sessions as well as his feature on Friggin Fabulous Radio with a full interview. He is also a familiar name on college stations and receives regular airplay on 90.5 The Night.
James Dalton continues to release exceptional homegrown music without putting on airs of the of the folk world chameleons. It takes more than a guitar, a flannel shirt and fedora to live this music, and Frankonia is just the latest in a multitude of independent projects that continues to keep Dalton in the Shoreworld spotlight, and as Chris Barry would say, “And the world beyond.”
Check out Dalton’s one-man extravaganza, Shanghai To Memphis, on Nov. 19 at Jimmy’s No. 43 in NYC. And for more information on James Dalton, the bands, the shows and the words of wisdom from a world traveler still at large, head over to reverbnation.com/jamesdalton.