Article by: Allison Colby
Rivers are often used as a metaphor in songs, as their unpredictable nature is perfect for mirroring life. Just as the trees that hang over our waterways are reflected in the waters, songs based on rivers can reflect life right back at us.
Think about Watching The River Flow by the great Bob Dylan, a song not so much about sitting on the banks and watching the water, but about giving up on the music business and just floating away. Down By the River, by Neil Young, has been interpreted many ways as an ode to heroin addiction or a more specific homage to traditional folk songs such as Knoxville Girl.
Over the years, generic rivers have been used time and again in songwriting, whereas some have been used literally. Big River, a Johnny Cash song written about the Mississippi, is a country classic covered by the likes of Grateful Dead. Orinoco Flow made Enya Ireland’s best-selling solo artist at the time, and her song ebbed and flowed like the South American body of water it was written about. That can also be said by one of the latest additions to the river-themed songs of our time, from Bacon James, a Florida singer/songwriter.
James has the blues running through his veins, and whilst he’s a Gainesville resident now, he has the spirit of Clarksdale in his music. The Mississippi town was home to Junior Parker, Eddie Boyd, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, and Pinetop Perkins and hosts the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. The Sunflower River runs through Clarksdale, and whilst Bacon James isn’t paying homage to that body of water, his sound could easily be a direct descendant of the famous musicians that once sat on its banks.
Instead, he signs about the Santa Fe River that runs through Northern Florida. He shows such passion and commitment to his topic that he recently won the 10th Annual The Santa Fe River Fest Songwriting Competition with the track Lost and Found (At the Santa Fe). Inspired by his journey in recent times, no doubt partly fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, James has written an inspired blues dedication to the river, describing how it helped wash away troubled times, something that resonated with the judges.
One man and a guitar – that’s what inspired the blues revolution, and in James’ song, we find a throwback to the classic artists, but with a passionate, personal edge. Vocally, James is strong with a slightly gravelly voice that wouldn’t be out of place on a Charley Patton album. The deep feeling behind the song emanates through not only James’ voice but also the pressure he puts his six-string under. He makes it sing with him, reflecting the passion he feels for the river right back at the listener. Hell, if you’ve never visited the Santa Fe River, there’s every chance it’ll be high on your bucket list next time you’re feeling down, such are the feelings emitted by the standout track.
Talking Heads. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Joni Mitchell. All artists who had their careers helped along by songs about a river, both literal and metaphorical. Now there’s a new name to add to the list, coming straight out of Gainesville: Bacon James.
If you like your tracks with deep feelings, then Amanda Hagel might also be worth checking out with her song, These Roots.
Written exclusively for lamusicreview.com
by Allison Colby