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At Home on the Road
by Randy Cunningham
Aaron Tilt(Oct 2007) Ever felt homesick? Sounds strange, but many folks would rather have a headache or even a cold before experiencing that sensation that appears when reminded of the place that feels most comfortable. Why? Unfortunately, longing for the familiarity of home never really disappears, but tends to linger in the heart, just gnawing away. Aspirin doesn’t dull the ache, and antibiotics are ineffective. So what’s the guaranteed cure? Simple. Go home. Just return to that specific spot in the world where life feels complete. While living in North Carolina a few years back, Texas-bred singer/songwriter Ryan James felt the Lone Star State tugging at his soul, but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to pack up and leave at that particular moment. So, rather than visiting a doctor for unnecessary medicine, he took refuge in a prescription of a different type by visiting a local tattoo parlor, where hours later, he emerged with a six-inch wide tattoo of the Texas flag burned into his left shoulder blade. Some folks might call that act extreme, but to James, carrying the star of Texas with him meant that no matter where he roamed, home was only an arm’s length away.

Fast forward to July of 2007. No longer living on Tobacco Road, James is back where his heart has always resided, at home in Austin. In just a matter of days, his newest release “Directed” will hit the shelves. He’s feeling hopeful, and based on his previous musical success, his positive mood is justified. In 2005, he leapt onto Texas radio with “Back To The Wind”, a 12-song masterpiece produced by Walt Wilkins that spawned a long-lasting industry buzz with 2 bonafide hits, including “How Long”, which spent 13 weeks on the Texas Music Chart, followed by “Goodbye Carolina”, which reached #7 and was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2006 Gruene With Envy Awards. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who caught his first break at a North Carolina restaurant where he was employed. “I was working at the Liberty Steakhouse in High Point” he states, “They had music on Thursday nights and I had about 8-12 originals. So, I played for about 3 hours, and made $150, plus tips. Not a bad night’s work.”

Not bad at all for a guy who at the age of 4 gravitated to the piano and later the drums and guitar, a self-taught musician who claims his laziness and unwillingness to follow the directions of teachers caused him to play what his own heart desired. The product of his mother’s appreciation for the Alan Parsons Project and Elton John, combined with his dad’s love for Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, James took his talents to Texas Tech, the recipient of a music performance scholarship. However, his independent spirit soon reappeared, and after taking a musical leap of faith away from Lubbock to launch his own career, he never looked back.

Much like his parents, James is not simply a fan of such current acts as James Taylor, Keith Urban, and Bruce Hornsby, but a walking musical hybrid with a deep appreciation for the different personalities and their contributions to his craft. “Man, if I could host a fantasy music dinner party, I would invite John Lennon, Johnny Cash, and Louie Armstrong. Lennon would be invited hands-down. I mean, the impact of ‘Imagine’ on the nation was incredible because of the time it was written. And Louie Armstrong was such a glowing personality. He had that really gravelly voice, and he was so much fun to watch. When I listen to ‘What A Wonderful World’ it just gives me goosebumps.”

Hoping to provide audiences with the same emotional experience provided by his own idols is always high on James’ to-do list at shows, and if a recent communication from a fan is any indication, he’s already achieved his goal. “I was doing a show at the West Texas Icehouse in Lubbock, and it was my second or third time to play there”, he says, “I got an e-mail about 2 or 3 months later from a guy, and he said the night after the show he had a heart attack and was in a coma for 2 months. He told me that while he was in the hospital, he kept hearing my show over and over in his head, and when he came to, he was convinced that my music had saved his life. Man, that really moved me, and I felt very undeserving of that.”

However, with the release of “Directed”, James has proven that any previous musical success is more than well-deserved. Produced by Tim Lorsch, his sophomore effort reinforces his songwriting skills, while allowing him to acknowledge those musical composers to which he feels an attachment, such as Keith Gattis and Austin’s not-so-hidden gem, Sam Baker. “I really like Sam Baker. He’s a guy in his 50s that is an incredibly deep writer”, James states, “His songs are simple-sounding, but they’re an incredibly poetic experience. If you miss even a single line, you miss his entire song.”

James continues, “I recorded a song of his on ‘Directed’ called ‘Waves’. It’s a really pretty love song about a guy whose wife of 50 years passes away. So he goes to the ocean, writes her name in the sand, and then watches as the waves wash her name away. You know, that’s got to be one of the most difficult things for older folks who lose someone they love. There’s just not that one person around anymore who has been with you for so long and remembers the same things you remember. I have to admit, when I was recording it I remember saying to myself, ‘Man, I hope I don’t screw this up.’”

Though an Austin resident, the release of “Directed” means that James will soon be touring far and wide to bring his music to the masses. But even though his house might be a distant speck in the rear view mirror, he looks forward to making the road his new home. “I love the road experience”, he states, “And I’m going to dive headfirst into touring. It’s so exciting to be playing some really cool shows, and maybe one day I’ll look out into the crowd and hear a whole bunch of people singing along.”

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