Early James (Easy Eye/Concord)

The form of the wizened poet shapes around Fredrick James Mullis Jr., known now as Early James, an Alabama-raised, Tom Waits-inspired artistic dichotomy. Seemingly a man of another era yet one who’s very much tuned into the present, his sophomore release, Strange Time To Be Alive, finds James working through different aspects of our collective experience with humor and with warning. Strange Time To Be Alive producer Dan Auerbach puts it this way, “His writing is so idiosyncratic; there’s not one song that feels like anything you’ve heard before. But then there’s also something in his sound that feels carved out of stone, like it’s from another time – it’s a very strange mix.”

Recorded live in Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studio in only three days, the record burns steadily, and this time – versus 2020’s Singing For My Supper – James largely trades in his acoustic guitar for an electric, the pulsing tones of which open the record on “Racing To A Red Light.” Opening with the lines, “Oh Lord, I think I just might/Be betting on a thrown fight/Between a man and a mannequin/Just lost to a banana skin,” the song continues as not so lighthearted commentary on the bad actors of the internet age amongst other futilities. “At the time I was getting fed up with seeing the same comments copied-and-pasted from the safety of anonymity on the internet, from people who can’t think up their own response to anything happening in the world,” says James. “That song’s a subtle dis to all that, and also to the people who think it’s a better idea to race to Mars on a rocket than to try to fix the planet we actually live on.”

Later, on piano ballad “Pigsty,” James bares the vulnerabilities of navigating love. “It’s about when my girlfriend and I first started dating and we were both feeling apprehensive about a lot of things,” explains James. “At the time I lived in a one-room apartment we called my pigsty ’cause my guitars were always all over the place, and I turned that into a song about the despair of not knowing what would happen and worrying I might lose her.”

On love’s darker side, Sierra Ferrell lends her enchanting voice to duet “Real Low Down Lonesome.” “When we were writing that one I was imagining some sort of noir film about two narcissists who use each other and still end up with nothing,” says James. “Sierra’s vocals are so drenched in reverb and I love how strange it sounds – it’s almost operatic.”

Then there’s the soulfully delivered title track, “What A Strange Time To Be Alive,” co-written by Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty) and Austin Jenkins (White Denim), and it is as sweet musically as can be for the content. “I know that every generation probably feels like they’re going through the toughest of times – but, damn, it really is a weird world to live in right now,” James says.

Early James takes to Europe, the US, and Australia to start off 2023, and Strange Time To Be Alive is continuing to be supported at Colorado Sound, KBAC, WMOT, WUIN and more.