Music » Record Reviews

James Godwin Serves Up Homemade Musical Gumbo with Eclectic Ingredients


Most Memphians know James Godwin by his first name, as in James & the Ultrasounds. (Full disclosure: I was an Ultrasound from 2017-2019). He was a good front man for that now-retired combo, in all its permutations, with his movie star looks and the voice of a fur trapper. He sang like he was shouting from the mountaintops, and that served him well when backed by the powerhouse band that originally included skin-slammer John Argroves, later replaced by Star & Micey's Jeremy Stanfill.

Now, having put the band in the deep freeze well before COVID-19, Godwin is unleashing his solo work on the world. His opening pitch is the five-song EP Hog Jowl, released just last week, and right out of the gate it’s clear that the Ultrasounds are absent.
This is a good thing. The end result is that this feels unmistakably like an artist with no expectations or limits. Certainly the Ultrasounds could indulge in a bit of sonic chaos, but rarely did it compare to the bewildering, distorted slide guitar that defines the title track, which is closer to, say, Sonic Youth when high on barbecue. Even as a musician, I was disoriented. And, in terms of thinking outside the box, that’s a good thing.

The title song still sports Godwin's throaty drawl, ragged but right. But the key difference is that, unlike the Ultrasounds, this is all Godwin, all the time. Most one man band records (except, perhaps, for those by multi-instrumentalists like Stevie Wonder or New Memphis Colorways) must needs sacrifice some of the drive of a full band, and this is no exception. Godwin does a serviceable job on bass and drums, naturally, but the lack of push-and-pull, of different players vying for a position within the beat, means that there’s a certain wooziness to the proceedings.
James Godwin
  • James Godwin
That fits the material to a tee. The songs range from the unhinged slide guitar of the opener to the rockabilly/gospel shuffle of “Down to the Valley” to the funky jam “Beans for Breakfast.” Recorded at “the Rainbow Recording Lounge,” these all have a homespun charm that makes the musical content as unpredictable as stone soup, made with whatever leftovers happen to be in Godwin’s fridge.

Nothing is as unpredictable as the very un-Ultrasounds-sounding closer, “Only I Know.” As an acoustic guitar lazily strums airy chords, Godwin’s voice exposes his tender side more than ever before. The shambolic musical reverie is a refreshing turn, spotlighting his most intimate lyrics to date. In all, as the song says, “it feels like it should.” Quarantine or no, this new approach gives free rein to Godwin’s imagination and promises many new surprises to come. 

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