Girl (not) alone 

"Before I ever went into a studio, I had a four-track and I used to record on that. I hadn’t taught myself guitar yet, so it was mostly keyboards and piano and vocals, with a lot of harmonies," remembers Denise James.

From such humble home-recorded beginnings comes one of Detroit’s true hidden musical treasures. Retaining the keen sense of harmony and a candid sense of introspection from her early days, James has become a haunting country and Midwestern singer-songwriter. Her self-titled album showcases her knack for writing country-tinged classics. While guitars jangle in timeless folk-rock fashion, her voice ranges from the desperation of "Who Sent You Love" to the charm of "I Still Long For You." There’s only one problem with the record: It remains unreleased. Still, she remains undeterred in pursuing her songcraft, forging ahead with the support of her bandmates: drummer Patrick Pantano, Volebeats bassist Russ Ledford and ubiquitous Volebeats guitarist Matt Smith. In the early ‘90s, James worked with His Name Is Alive, and took Karen Neal’s place as vocalist for the Dirt Eaters (one of the great, and, sadly, barely documented bands of that era). "Darlin’," James’ brilliant country lament that she recorded with HNIA, still pops up in her live shows, which thankfully have begun to appear once a month rather than every now and then. Like her other tunes, it holds its own with those of such similarly dreamy psych-folk-country greats as Kendra Smith, Barbara Manning and Edith Frost. Lyrically, she’s as astonishing as any of the aforementioned greats, too, with her ballads of love, loss and longing. As James says, "I always laugh when I think about it, but I think there’s the word ‘love’ in every song. It’s that basic human element of wanting to connect with other people. Trying to get to there, but not ever really getting there."

Hopefully she’ll get there soon, at least as far as getting her music to the world, and her talent will get the recognition it deserves.

More by Greg Baise

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