Fresh from a year of solo singles, a Great Willow single and an acclaimed collaboration with Americana legends I See Hawks In LA, Great Willow’s James Combs is back with the new full length solo album, Falling Under Spells. Produced by James and longtime Fiona Apple collaborator John Would, Falling Under Spells is James’ fifth solo album. It’s fun and sad. It’s sweet and angry. It sounds old and new. It’s from the heart.
Covering a wide breadth of stylistic territory – from fuzzed out desert rock to gorgeous Laurel-Canyon-world songwriting to vintage soul to synth-driven indie – James’ songs are a clear-eyed snapshot of strange times with a microdose of west coast hippie optimism sprinkled throughout. Things may be weird, but we still have each other. And we can still rock. Joy is allowed.
James: “Faced with untold lockdown days, I found myself in my studio with a head full of melodies, sounds, and lyric ideas. The songs came fast and furious. Songs about protest marches and true believers and going nowhere fast and wild dance parties in safer times. Songs for my wife and son. Songs for my friends. Songs for my achin’ head.
Then I thought, while we’re all stuck, maybe I can get the best musicians I know to help me decorate these songs. So I asked and they stepped up, big time. Friends like Grammy-winner John Would (Fiona Apple), guitar virtuoso Paul Lacques (I See Hawks In LA), magic singers April Mann and Kelly Atkins, drum ace Matt Hergert, badass professors Wendy Kline (violin) and Joe Hellerstein (trumpet) all brought the spark.
Each time a new bass or horn or harmony vocal part rolled in, it was like adding another drawer or window to this fancy cabin I was building. Somehow this band of stellar players from around the country had perfect group radar for the kind of music I wanted to make – personal, poetic songs rooted in classic American songwriting but with adventurous tendrils. A desert folk dobro part here, a Chet-Baker trumpet solo there, a distorted bass line here, a rich group choral arrangement there. These speed-written songs, sprung from folk bones but orchestrated with many colors, burst into life piece by piece.
Now the result of all this devotion, love and labor is here before you. It’s real and true. I think it is the best record I have made. I hope you feel it, too.”
Falling Under Spells. We’re all a little hypnotized.
James’ musical ride has included a BBC Peel Session, a Lollapalooza, a co-written True Blood end title sung by Iggy Pop/Best Coast, four solo albums and four group albums (Great Willow, Arson Garden), live performances from Berlin to London to New York to New Orleans to San Francisco to The Laurel Canyon Country Store, stages shared with Jackson Browne, Van Dyke Parks, Tom Verlaine, Marianne Faithfull, John C. Reilly, Michelle Phillips and John Densmore/Robby Krieger. James is songwriter for the band Great Willow, presents a concert series in Beachwood Canyon, works in the world of sync licensing and music supervision, and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son.