There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely is my first significant foray into Possessed By Paul James’ music. I asked around to more veteran ears to see how they thought it compared to his earlier work and the consensus seemed to be that this album was his most accessible, not necessarily the most polished, though maybe, but the one that was most easiest to latch on to. So if you’ve only listened to PPJ in passing it’s time to give the music some serious attention. There Will Be Nights… is Essential Listening.
The opening five seconds of “Hurricane,” the lead-off song, could be described as abrasive fiddle yet very quickly the fiddle reaches a beautiful wailing before sliding effortlessly into a crescendo of enthusiastic ecstasy that lasts, despite the often lyrical lapses into the grave elements of life, throughout the entirety of the album. Musically there is a joy that perpetuates throughout sad times and happy days within these eleven songs. I’m a huge fan of The Staples Singers and find the desperation with which they sing their gospel songs to be riveting and life-affirming. There Will Be Nights... feels like a white-folks revival album, the kind of revival that could turn me from a sinner to a man living on the righteous path. “Songs We Used To Sing” most exemplifies The Staples Singers influence and I would pay good money to hear PPJ and Mavis Staple work up a version of this song.
One of the most impressive elements of this album is that it is entirely possible to listen passively and soak up the message of the music. Musically each song reinforces a belief in a higher power, while lyrically even the hardest moments of life are appreciated. This idea is most apparent in the chorus of “Heavy.” “This life can get heavy/oh so heavy/sometimes” is sung in a way that I visualize PPJ pulling away from the mic as he sings and the effect is the words almost feel like a blessing or thanksgiving for the hard times.
If you’ve read anything about this record you’ve probably heard that PPJ plays the fiddle, banjo, guitar and viola throughout the record, an impressive feat. Yet his vocal delivery is as important in capturing the emotion in the music as any instrument. Lyrically there are no stoic lines, yet there is not a single trite phrase. Gospel music, and I do consider this gospel, relies on accessible language and PPJ follows suit without falling into greeting-card phrases or sentiments. What this album is about and what I’m trying to say can all be found in “Sweet But Bitter Life.” It’s one of my favorite songs from the past year and causes chills and raised fists almost every time I hear it.
Essential Listening. No doubt.