James and the Ultrasounds
Watch and listen:
Madjack Records is a Memphis label known for releasing first-rate indie material, so when I saw that they were releasing a new album by James and the Ultrasounds, a band I knew only from local live music schedules, I was eager to check it out. Madjack is of course the label that launched the career of Lucero, and is also known for such melodic indie/folk artists as Delta Joe Sanders, John Kilzer, the Memphis Dawls and Mark Edgar Stuart, so I was expecting James and the Ultrasounds to be in the same general vein, and I was in for something of a shock, to say the least. The album Bad to be Here opens with a blistering, fast-paced punk-rock anthem called “Sleep Cheap”, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like this album or band after all. But the second track “Raise My Kids” maintained the punk ethos while mixing in a fair dose of Memphis roots rock, and by the time I reached the slow ballad “Streets Get Slick”, with its melodic, soulful implications, I was hooked. Memphis implications appear throughout the remainder of the album, a more pronounced soul feel on “Letters In A Box”, the Hill Country blues feel of “Ballad for the Man” whose lyrics address police harassment, the 50’s Jerry Lee Lewis approach of “Lover Man” or the 1960’s summertime groove of “We’ll Be Together Again.” For a relatively new band, James & The Ultrasounds have internalized a vast library of Memphis aesthetics, from Stax to Sun, and from Tav Falco to the Compulsive Gamblers, and even shades of the Alex Chilton of “Like Flies On Sherbet”, yet they are at once a bold and fresh new voice in Memphis music. Altogether, James and the Ultrasounds’ new album is a like a wild ride on the old Zippin’ Pippin’, and despite the title, it shows that when “here” is Memphis, it’s not so bad to be here after all. (GRADE A+)
On a given night in midtown Memphis one can find any number of bands. Amidst the dim lights, heat and discordant blend of conversation emerging from venues like the Hi Tone, the Buccaneer Lounge and Bar DKDC there has been a particular group distinguishing itself over the course of the last year or so as one of the best up and coming rock acts in the city. Brash yet thoughtful, with sweet guitars and pummeling, yet danceable, Memphis-Style rhythm. There isn't quite anything like them in Memphis or elsewhere. If you happen to be one of those who haven’t yet heard James and the UltraSounds, or seen them live..strap in.
The four piece rock and roll band is the brainchild of James Godwin, a familiar face in the Memphis music scene, having been raised in the Bluff City, playing bass in a number of bands since his teens. His time in experimental rock outfit The New Mary Jane offered him an opportunity to develop what now seems like a telepathic understanding with current UltraSounds drummer John Argroves as well as to collaborate with influential Grifters duo David Shouse and Scott Taylor. In the ensuing years Godwin again teamed with Argroves to form a powerful rhythm section for Goner Records legend Jack Oblivian as well as Memphis by way of Knoxville roots rock singer/guitarist John Paul Keith, whose 2013 Roland Janes-produced release Memphis, Circa 3 A.M. has been lauded as an instant classic. After touring with Jack O and JPK across the US and Europe, Godwin made time to do some songwriting of his own, and in 2012 recorded his solo debut EP, Lovers and Ghosts, playing all the instruments himself to a 4 track recorder. Soon thereafter he put together a band to perform the EP material, bringing in Argroves on drums, Luke White on guitar and David Johnson on bass. The group began to play regionally and have strung together tours up the east coast to New York, returning to Memphis energized and ready to record new material that Godwin had been writing.
This past spring the band planned some recording sessions with another great Memphis multi-instrumentalist, Mark Edgar Stuart, producing. The results of those sessions comprise the band’s MadJack Records debut full length album, "Bad To Be Here."
More recently, the band released a brand new 7” on a new Memphis label, Misspent Records. The 7" includes a brand new James and the UltraSounds track, the hook heavy space-punk jam “Robot Love” on the A side, with the B side featuring a crunching version of The Cramps’ “TV Set,” from their Phillips Recording cut and Alex Chilton-produced "Songs the Lord Taught Us." Look for new releases on both Madjack and Misspent in the coming months, including a special, short-run European press of two early James and The Ultrasounds cuts, "Apocalyptic Love," and "I Get The Shakes."
With these offerings in store for the coming months, James and the UltraSounds are well poised to be one of the big breakout bands of 2016 and beyond. One way or another, be sure to keep an eye on this band.