The Rocks Off 200: Ryan James, Putting Up a Good Fight
Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too.
Who? In all likelihood you haven't heard much about Ryan James, but that's why we're here then, isn't it? Though he grew up in Houston, he's been mostly away in Austin performing his particular brand of country music until he recently returned to the Bayou City to pursue nursing studies. As such, his performances have been somewhat limited to YouTube videos and the recent CD release party for his album, The Good Fight.
Houston's country scene these days tends to be more focused on a dark, classic-Americana vibe than the radio-friendly stuff that James has mastered, but I do hope to see him out and about more because Good Fight is probably my favorite country release from a local artist ever. His voice is a powerful whisper that throws out pain and hope in equal measure over his pop country balladeer strums.
The real gem from his latest release is easily "The Falling." Sure, it's another papa-was-a-rolling-stone sort of ode to a man's fear of handing his heart to an uncareful custodian. That's about ten percent of all male-voiced country music, and there's nothing new about the idea.
James, though, is a master of clever turns of phrase that turns the old trope into something wonderfully poetic. He's a rare, accessible lyricist that holds onto the populist trappings but manages higher wordcraft without reaching into flowery language. In short, he's a down-to-earth genius. You won't regret picking up this album.
Home Base: Most of the demo recordings of James' songs feature the sounds of young children at play in the background. That's because his favorite place to write is sipping coffee at home in his pajamas while his kids run around in the next room.
For performing, he likes Firehouse Saloon, Big Texas, and says Cypress Saloon is a blast. His absolute favorite is that northern hotbed of great country voices, Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, where the staff is always willing to try a new voice and cherishes its acts very closely.
Good War Story: "I've had so many crazy nights," says James. "My favorite was out in Mt. Pleasant, Texas."
After playing to a great crowd, we had a late night... you know, just hanging out. After a series of bizarre events, cops were called and for whatever reason when my drummer saw red and blue lights, he ran. We didn't see him again until the next morning.
Turns out, after panicking he'd ran through a barb-wire fence and thought it a good idea to bury himself in some nearby swampy mud. When the coast was finally clear hours later, he moseyed to the van covered from hat to sole in sticky, smelly mud. I couldn't even be a little mad at him; it was truly hilarious.
Story continues on the next page.
Five Desert Island Discs:
- Jackson Browne, Saturate Before Using
- The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
- Stevie Wonder, Songs In the Key of Life
- Queen, Live at Wembley Stadium
- Merle Haggard, Branded Man
Music Scene Pet Peeve: James' biggest pet peeve isn't with the scene so much as music in general. Though he's as guilty as anyone else for living in the modern iTunes world of downloading singles instead of albums, he longs for the days he sat listening to his father's vinyl from beginning to end. The album is becoming something of a dead art, a fact that leaves him a little sad.
Best Show You've Ever Seen: "I saw Muse at the Toyota Center in Houston a few years ago soon after The Resistance was released," he says. "Between the spectacular production, amazing music, and instrumental talent, I was completely swept from reality and 100 percent in that moment."
First Song You Fell in Love With: "If I'm being completely honest, it was probably a Michael Jackson song from Thriller, but I'm not sure which one exactly," admits James. "I still love that record."
See the rest of the Rocks Off 200 on the next page.
John Cramer, Guitar Apostle of Project Grimm Big Gerb, Houston's Hongree-est MC Steven Higginbotham, Hard-Working Wheel Worker Alisha Pattillo & Her Swaggering, Soulful Sax Brandon Ray, Punk Rocker Turned Filmmaker/Animator The Excitable Boys of Another Run Flash Gordon Parks, DJ as Funky Professor DJ Main Event, Kratez Crew JumpOff Man Odd Hours and Back to Back's Hank Doyle Legendary K-OTIX Producer Russel "The ARE" Gonzalez Dylan Bryson Sings the Blues (Rock) DJ Damon Allen, R.O.C.O. Fellow Tom Lynch, New Kid On the Block Ashley Worhol, Goth-Metal Queen of Katy Joe Ortiz, Clockpole's Master of Nonsense Marzi Montazeri, the Man Dimebag Darrell Called a Bad Motherfucker John Salinas, the Beat Beast of Only Beast Homegrown Cowboy Crooner Charles Peters Adam Bricks, NYC Expat Metal Journeyman and Blasé Bassist Alan Hilton Kyra Noons, Houston's Reggae Sunsplash DJ AudiTory, the Maestro of LuvItMane The Nephilim Terror's Death-Metal Growler Danny Carroll Tommy Grindle, Guitarist of Square and Compass The Bailout Bureau's Mysterious "Bob Bovary" DJ Twinkle-Toes, Won a "Dick-Measuring Vinyl Orgy" With Two iPods Beanz N Kornbread, Gmail-Loving Production Duo You(genious), Party Crasher Turned Musical Auteur Daniel Alexander, Klein's Backyard MC
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