James Justin Burke knows a few things about life on the road. From the Rockies to the Big Apple, he and his band, James Justin & Company, have stared eye-to-eye with a mountain lion in Old New Mexico, kissed the sky at Wolf Creek Pass in southern Colorado, and picked late into the evening in Metal Cities across the country.
For their third studio album, Places, JJ&Co looked to the inspiration of their endless journey. Taking turns at the wheel on the long hauls between gigs, their melodies, lyrics and harmonies fell into place as the miles rolled away beneath them. On the heels of 2008’s Southern Son, So Far and 2011’s Dark Country, Places emerges as a sincere portrait of a band settling into a level of shared musical consciousness only countless hours together in the van and on stage can provide.
Filled out by Bailey Horsley (banjo/vocals) and Tom Propst (upright bass/vocals), JJ&Co set the tone forPlaces with the striking “Forever and a Day.” The song reassures each audience that the band wishes they could stay, underlying the attitude that the amiable trio naturally maintains. Rarely is a band so impeccably talented yet familiar and humble, making a friend of each fan, waitress and gas station attendant they encounter along the way.
Based in Richmond, Virginia, with their toes firmly in the sands of Folly Beach, SC, JJ&Co have built their base of spirited fans through heavy touring, high harmonies, and impeccable bluegrass chops. With one foot in traditional roots music and the other on a reverb pedal, Stratocaster in hand, it’s no wonder that JJ&Co have attracted notable influences from Sam Bush to Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell to collaborate with on stage and in the studio.
Favorites at major festivals, including the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and FloydFest, JJ&Co have cultivated a faithful following across the southeast and out to Colorado, opening marquee gigs for acts including Taj Mahal and the Infamous Stringdusters.
A recent father, James Justin awakens before dawn, both to care for his new son and to man the tractor at the family dairy farm he and his wife help to maintain when he’s not on tour. The twilight solitude allows the songwriter ample time to contemplate, resulting in a lyrical detail throughout Places that’s stunning in its effect.
“Ruedi Reservoir” tells the forlorn story of a Rocky Mountain mining community — men, women and children — lost to a heavy snowfall on Christmas Eve, their town preserved in perpetuity underneath the chilly waters of the lake. The chorus of “Wolf Creek Pass” soars with the exuberance of a hard-earned view across the world after a long climb, while “Metal City,” featuring backing vocals from Blake Christiana (Yarn), reflects the roots music revival currently underway in New York City. “Midwestern Sounds” may be the quintessential JJ&Co song, shifting effortlessly between a relaxed drive across the Kansas plains and the anticipation of spotting the rise of the Front Range on the horizon.
“Places was already written on the first day we left for tour — we just didn’t know it,” says James Justin. “We were so inspired by our travels and making the sacrifice that we made. I gave up a dream life on Folly Beach to do what I’ve been passionate about for a long time. It took the last day of tour to finish the album, and realize that it was there all along.”
Recorded and mixed by Jim Donnelly of Plowground Studios (Johns Island, SC) and mastered by Majeed Fick (Truphonic Recording, Charleston, SC), Places successfully conveys the feel of a live JJ&Co performance while setting a high bar for production value and studio work.
With an overall feeling that’s at once raw and polished, James Justin & Company have created an album in Places that’s intensely meaningful yet simple in its beauty. There are no walls of sound for musician’s to hide behind. From the haunting conclusion of “Reudi Reservoir” to the rolling party vibe of “Old New Mexico,” it’s evident that JJ&Co have found their collective muse in Places, perfecting their harmony both in sound and their shared life inspiring audiences to smile and sing-along, from back-road juke joints to big city stages.