Shawn James
On the Shoulders of Giants



by J.C. van Beekum USER (20 Reviews)
October 13th, 2019 | 2 replies

Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: As foretold by the preacher's musings, the bellowing voice of the bruised and beaten man beckons me.

I distinctly remember the first time I was exposed to Shawn James’ music. It was a rainy day and liquid was tumbling down from the sky in unimaginable quantities clattering against the windows of my dusty room, producing an array of sounds which could justly be described as serene. It was on this fateful day that I was searching some previously unknown crevice of the internet, bored out of my skull, looking for a temporary escape from reality, when I came across a video titled: ‘Shawn James – Hellhound’. Enticed by the strange nature of thumbnail, which displayed a long-haired fella, sitting behind a table inside a dimly lit room, surrounded by a kaleidoscopic array of peculiar decorations, which included a miniature doll of, I believe, Popeye as well as several severed limbs, which I’m sure formerly belonged to a rather unfortunate mannequin. Retrospectively, this occurrence can be appropriately described as serendipitous, for it was the moment which led me to be acquainted with a rather unknown folk/blues artist whom had far more musical pleasure to offer me.

For although Shawn James may not bring to the table the most technically impressive, aesthetically varied or bombastic instrumentation, he does have a penchant for cohesive and catchy song writing along with some, I dare say, spine-tingling vocal abilities as well as a fortei for comprising lyrics. As this Chicago born multi-instrumentalist, capable of playing anything from harmonica to piano, equipped with nothing more than his western steel guitar, a bass drum, a tambourine and a thunderous voice, succeeds in crafting one hell of an emotionally satisfying record with influences from blues, folk, soul and perhaps even a little gospel.

As I’ve perhaps hinted at already, it is his inimitably distinct vocals that give this record most of its emotional force, with the instruments simply paling in comparison, whenever Shawn James’ voice makes its entrance. His voice having an incredible array of qualities. It can be serene, intimately beautiful, almost soothing in way, but also thunderous and astonishingly raw and crushing. The crescendo of sorts on the track 'Hellhound' or his singing on 'Delilah' are prime examples of Shawn James’ impressive vocal prowess. Occasionally he even lets out a harrowing, powerful, yet moderately subdued scream, like on the track Delilah, which only adds to the emotional severity the record so successfully communicates to the listener.

In a sense, this record can be seen as an emotional conduit, through which Shawn James channels his existential hardships and past sorrows into something immediately poignant. Ultimately, it causes the record to often be clouded in an ever-present nebula drenched in melancholy and grief, which only occasionally allows a glimmer of hope or relief to shine through. This is noticeable not only due to his vocal expressions, but also through his lyricism. Tracks like 'Belly of Beast' seem to describe Shawn’s battles against the darkness present both inside and around him, while in 'Delilah he seems to lament over the betrayal of someone ónce near and dear to him. But Shawn James is also capable of writing compelling narratives into his songs, with the last two tracks serving as prime examples of his story-telling abilities.

Moreover, the instrumentation which forms the backbone of Shawn’s compositions is certainly nothing to scoff at. The strumming steel guitar, occasionally played with a slide, the faint clangs of the tambourine and the drowsy beats from the bass-drum perfectly foster the musical environment required to elevate Shawn’s incredibly power vocals. They serve as very appropriate musical guides, such as on the song When It Rains, It Pours: as Shawn’s voice ebbs and flows, so too the strings on his steel guitar flutter, their raw and unpolished sound profoundly befitting of Shawn’s sorrowful vocal tones. It is due to their minimalism that the instruments never overshadow or hamper the vocal performance, instead amplifying the Shawn's singing and helping to embody the raw and direct style and tone of the music on this record.

With the record coming to close we get perhaps the most unorthodox track on the album: 'Preacher Foretold'. Shawn’s vocal abilities are once again on full display here, but this time merely accompanied by a constant rhythm comprised of the clapping of a single pair of hands and the frequent beating of the base drum. The lyrics tell the story of a preacher who foretold the future that would await Shawn. He sings:

“Your truth will be much different than these sheep's rule of thumb
Your voice will reach far, your words will reach wide
Your spirit will inspire many who otherwise would have died”

In the second part of the song Shawn reflects on this prophecy once divulged to him, saying that he attempted to escape from it, ultimately to no avail; the music that he’s now creating was his true calling and forever will be, it thus seems. He follows these lines with a rather portentous comment: “So don't you be surprised when I open wide the door - there's so much more comin than there's ever been before,” with the song coming to a close with Shawn repeatedly singing he will "give it all he’s got". I for one certainly hope Shawn James will continue to keep that promise, because I’m wholeheartedly convinced he has far more emotionally powerful music to offer. Perhaps that preacher was truly clairvoyant after all.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
October 13th 2019


First review on this site, so any constructive feedback would be appreciated. Stream/buy this album:


February 1st 2020


Damn you also do reviews? Sweeeeet.

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