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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

James Hurley - Tempest In A Teacup

James Hurley - Tempest In A Teacup
2008, T. James Hurley

Listening to James Hurley's Tempest In A Teacup, you'd think you were hearing the greatest hits album of an established, major-label singer/songwriter. Instead, Hurley is something of a journeyman guitar player, playing much of the year in small venues in the western US and the UK. Hurley recorded Tempest In A Teacup while on tour, lighting here and there for a day and getting in studio time between Arizona and Washington while on tour. Vacillating between wicked humor and stark poignancy, Hurley spins a master class in the art of story-telling in song that the best-fed minstrel would envy.

Tempest In A Teacup opens with "Mountain", with Hurley sounding like the musical spawn of Mark Knopfler and Colin Hay. Hurley mixes wit and intelligence in a laser-sharp treatise on what we give up to move forward. "What Might've Been" is about forks in the road and the choice between finding out what's ahead or spending your life wondering. Hurley manages to tackle a subject that's been done so many times that the mere thought of it is cliché, yet manages to turn it into a brilliant parable without breaking a sweat. On "Tempest In A Teacup" Hurley laments the human tendency to impress our ideas on others even if it means going to war. The arrangement here is a perfect fit to a brilliant and incisive bit of social commentary that makes both "good guys" and "bad guys" look small.

Hurley shows finesse on "She's The One", a song about the potential of love, and that delicious mix of emotions that comes from infatuation and not knowing where imagination and reality mix to suit both interest and ego. Brilliant is one word you could use, but Hurley manages to capture an essential point of the human condition in song in such an utterly casual manner it's mystifying. Just to mix things up, Hurley throws in "Mushroom" to keep you guessing. It's an entertaining diversion about the insecurities that keep us from moving beyond our own limited world views, and the characterizations will seem fantastic until you realize that he's using allegory to paint characteristics we all share. It's a brilliant, funny and illuminating tune.

For all that can be said about the songs that come before it, "Jealous Of The Moon" may be one of the finest bits of songwriting to cross this desk. Hurley explores the effects that love and insecurity can have on the psyche in a tune that is both serious and ironic at the same time. It's a gorgeous arrangement and an absolutely amazing bit of song craft. Hurley perhaps pays tribute to Paul McCartney on "Long Way Down", with a riff that opens and closes the song that sounds like it might have come from Sir Paul himself. It's an allegorical reflection on loss that will hit home for any who have been there. Ever the entertainer, Hurley changes pace deftly with "The Vampire Song", a whimsical and entertaining song that will make a lot of sense to anyone who doesn't live on the West Coast.

"She Won't Be Down" is a story song about someone who has cocooned themselves away from the world for fear of being hurt. It's a brilliant musical portrait; much to rich to be called a caricature. Hurley turns philosophical on the closing track, "Going Home", telling the story of a prodigal son from his own perspective. Many run away from home and into adulthood to seek their place in the world only to return home years later to finally found what they were searching for. This story, too, has been told many times in song, but Hurley has a gift for taking the mundane and finding the spark within that makes it special.

James Hurley writes songs with the flair of a magician, painting pictures in song so real and vibrant you can nearly touch them. Tempest In A Teacup is quite literally brilliant, shining over and above the pop/rock throng with tuneful, literate songwriting and generous doses of wit. Hurley's voice is eminently listenable and his arrangements are flawless. You'll be listening to this album long after your current flavor of the month has been relegated to your backup hard drive (or traded in for credit). Tempest In A Teacup can only be a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc. Don't miss it.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about James Hurley at or Tempest In A Teacup is availble on CD or as a Download from CDBaby. The album is also available in various formats from Amazon and iTunes.


Unknown said...

Wonderful artist..wonderful man..will tune up ur motor, like no one else can!..ha ha ha! this guy!

Carl said...

I caught James' act in San Luis Obispo on a fluke and I have been enjoying his work ever since. He fits the troubador mold to a "T". I have played Tempest In A Teacup" and "Sun & Moon" over and over picking up on nuances and enjoying the places that he takes me each time I do.