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Jemima James Jemima James
Album: At Longview Farm/When You Get Old
Label: Team Love
Tracks: 10+13

This release has quite a backstory. Way back in 1979, at age 27, Colorado-born, NYC-based songwriter Jemima James (interestingly, the great-granddaughter of far-sighted 19th century philosopher William James) recorded an album while living at Longview Farm, a residential recording studio in Worcester County, Massachusetts. This album was never released however, and Jemima quietly continued on with a songwriting career, and her three subsequent albums appeared at intervals (in 1997, 2004 and 2014 respectively) and reused some of the songs from that unreleased debut. Then in 2015, Jemima was going through a period of reflection and recorded a new album, When You Get Old, with her band Good Night Louise. Coincidentally, Jemima’s son Willy Mason – already a successful songwriter in his own right – got in touch with his label (Team Love) to try to persuade them to release the tapes of his mother’s debut which had been gathering dust on a shelf over the intervening years.

What a great idea, then, to package together the bookends of Jemima’s career as a double-disc set. Here it is, complete with booklet containing lyrics and photos, and it’s a good – and unusual – opportunity to compare the development of Jemima’s music over more than three decades. Actually, although the 1979 debut is much of its time, with quite full arrangements, and the new album has a more subdued, comfortingly retro feel, there’s an easy, natural consistency between the two recordings that belies the temporal shift. This is despite the obvious differences between the two sets: At Longview Farm delivers nine of Jemima’s own songs, and features backing from five musicians (guitars, piano, bass, drums) and some uncredited string players, while When You Get Old lists a greater number of musicians yet sounds more intimate, pairing six new songs with fresh visits to two songs from the earlier set (Sensible Shoes and Easy Come, Easy Go) and four covers (songs by Blaze Foley, Willy Mason, Bobby Charles and Gillian Welch). Each of the two discs contains a bonus track, intimately recorded in 2011 in Ludlow (here in the UK) by – and featuring – Benet Walsh on guitar and vocals.

This is an interesting exercise in marketing as much as a clear opportunity to exhume a worthwhile artefact from the early career of a successful songwriter. The earlier set possesses an appealingly zeitgeist mix of charm and confidence that extends from the writing out into the performances and arrangements, while the 2015 recordings are evidently those of a songwriter who’s learnt from her experiences but who’s comfortable with her talent.

David Kidman