Country music is a more emotional style of music than most people give it credit for being. An entire generation (or two) of music consumers has been trained by the major labels and music conglomerates of the world to think of country music as a caricature or itself. If the pop star with the cowboy hat on isn’t singing about drinking and/or partying then clearly their sorrows are all tongue-in-cheek. The sterility and lack of true emotion in today’s popular country music is somewhat sickening for us purists. So it’s a breath of fresh, if albeit sometimes depressing air, when an artist like James Maple comes along and drops an album as passionate as American Dreams.
Maple calls greater New London, CT his home and has made his name in the CT music scene as the front man and lead songwriter for the band GraveRobbers. He now spends his time recording under his own name and frankly, as good as GraveRobbers were (and man were they good), this solo project might be the best thing he’s ever done. It’s as Country as anything you are ever going to hear out of the Nutmeg State, yet at the same time still manages to maintain that sort of Americana/indie-folk aesthetic that made GraveRobbers a popular band amongst the indie rock crowd. You didn’t need a flannel shirt or boots to enjoy GraveRobbers but with Maple’s new project you may want to dust them off.
Maple, on vocals and guitar, is backed on most tracks by a full outfit, complete with harrowing pedal steel. His songs alternate between tear-jerking ballads and the occasional toe-tapping rocker reminiscent of John Mellencamp or The Band. Maple is a direct descendant of the great lineage of songwriters who just seethe “America”. Visions of things like old factory towns, long, dusty highways, and mama hanging the laundry on the line while the kids play in the yard abound here. He’s as good a story-teller as you’re going to hear and most of his stories are filled with the kind of heartache and sorrow that unfortunately too many of us can so easily relate to. It’s cathartic really, knowing that there are others out there who put their hearts on their sleeves only to have them occasionally ripped off.
If you’re looking for party music to chug Bud Lights to in the parking lot of the Rascal Flatts concert you’ve come to the wrong place. (You probably made a wrong turn at the intersection of Awesome and Suck Streets.) But if you’re looking for a man who puts his heart and soul into his craft and produces contemplative and meaningful music then pull up a seat and get ready to listen to one of the best troubadours in the Northeast weave you some tales. You’ll be better for it.
American Dreams is out now and available for your listening pleasure over at James Maple's Bandcamp page.