by Nathan Cardiff
I realize it’s only February, but the most fascinating musical moment of this whole year might be a kazoo solo. That’s right; a kazoo. And this isn’t for the novelty or some sort of a joke on the listener. It’s a genuine, whole-hearted, motherfucking kazoo solo. And it slays. Once you hear it, there’s your life before that kazoo solo and your life after. I can safely say that my life is only better after having heard it (especially four or five times while writing this review). I could spend an entire article on this solo, but that’s a discussion for another time. Let’s talk Theatres.
A little over a year and a half has passed since Nicholas St. James’ Honeysuckle EP was released and the troubadour has pulled out all the stops on the full length record. Should we expect anything less? No, because the artist delivers. To keep expectations high may be unfair, but that was honestly never a concern. Theatres is ambitious as hell (is that a marimba on the opener “Go Anywhere?”), yet modest (the man’s folk roots remains pure). So here’s St. James baring his bluesy soul, signature howl and all, but he’s taken the genre up a notch. A world where only he exists and the rest of us are rushing to be there with him. The electric guitar on “You Already Knew,” the mellotron on “If You’re A Saint,” that kazoo on “Bound To Burn,” all are subtle, but fantastically powerful supporting players to the signature guitar strum and growl St. James has. And that’s just the first half of the record!
The lyrics are on point with the vocals; St. James’ ability to mix the devastatingly surreal (“Liquor for our children, time-out for the press/A bed without a bounce, a cheap hotel without a mess” on “You Already Knew”) with the straightforward devastating (“I write you a letter every day and then I throw it away” becomes an eruption at the end of “Sewer Service” and “Can’t say I ever heard that you’re gonna have to pay for tomorrow, today” on the quietly stunning “St. Louis Rag”). And on “Misery,” St. James’ voice becomes what is quite possibly the strongest instrument featured on Theatres. Every moment leads to the six-minute epic close “Yodel Waltz” which smashes to black; there is no fade. It slow burns and then jumps off the ledge. And the noise that everyone must be hearing at the end of this record is their own breath finally exhaling from their body after the tension of this song. It is a staggeringly beautiful moment on what it is certainly a masterfully done record. Oh, by the way, that kazoo comes back on “Something Better.” Don’t think I would miss mentioning that.
Favorite Tracks: “Bound To Burn,” “Jean Jacket Johnny,” & “St. Louis Rag”
by Nathan Cardiff
Editor’s note: You can listen to Theatres here, and see Nichoals St. James live in person at his album release show at the Lawrence Arts Center on Monday, February 22nd.