“James Gray is an unbelievable singer and songwriter with a captivating sound that will speak to your spirit.” This was the invitation sent to followers of the Unicorn Project for James Gray’s newest video in the series, his song, “This Holy Somewhere.” The Unicorn Project captures live music played in the Greater Toronto Area and presents these videos to an ever-increasing audience through their YouTube channel, ‘The Unicorn Project GTA.’ Many of these song releases are eagerly awaited and James Gray’s song, which premiered on March 18, 2020, has been greeted with much enthusiasm.
James Gray is a Muskoka based songwriter, who in the past year has released a series of singles on YouTube in anticipation of an album he is quietly working on in his rather special studio tucked away in the quiet forest of the Almaguin Highlands. “This Holy Somewhere” marks his second video release with the Unicorn Project, following on his very popular “Oh The Places You Will Go.”
“Dust don’t soon settle on that one,” a friend once told me, when referring to James Gray, who has taken his songs around the world and played to audiences from Switzerland to Australia. Some might claim his to be a restless heart, but others know that he is an adventurer and savant of the wide world. Contained within his direct approach to lyrics and subtle sinuous finger style guitar, is both a wicked sense of humour and worldview that has found resonance with listeners and a growing fan base throughout his travels. Some would state that he follows in the footsteps of the wandering troubadours of old, like the folk and country heroes who found their audience wherever they laid their bed, but James is more astute than a simple reverence to the old ways of song. He shines a light on the issues of a modern society, but always manages to point out there must indeed be a better way.
On stage, James is a fireball of energy and charm, almost coaxing the words and chords up out of a song like some gypsy shaman, intent on getting a whirlwind of spirit swirling around the room while he rides the tune in out of his soaring vocals. Gray has been on a remarkable creative development this past year and has found a way to reach out to his audience through a series of single song releases YouTube videos, and notably with his recent collaboration with The Unicorn Project.
James, who comes from Emsdale, ON, has been performing at local shows and events since his teens. He is a straightforward guitarist and a stylistic vocalist. He has recorded two albums, both produced by Shannon Lyon: “Home to Me” (2013) and “Bigger Things” (2015), both of which have sold well and are well worth a listen. One of my favourite songs of all time is “The Pieces Left Behind” from “Bigger Things,” and a popular local favourite, “Say Hi to Your Neighbour.”
“This Holy Somewhere” finds the songwriter both reflectively hopeful, yet somewhat disparaged, by unresolved questions that could easily be mistaken for self reflection, if not for the sense that these lyrics seemed aimed at someone held in high regard. “I put my jacket on, the summer’s gone, I feel so uninspired / You keep telling me you want the best me, as I am perched on this wire / When all I can see is your face I feel so far down.” Though James’ songs tend to be topical, he often finds a common sense way of lyrically presenting his thought and his underlying values and philosophy. In “This Holy Somewhere,” James explores the idea of aspiration and striving for the something more, somewhere beyond what is right here. “First we talk and then we can sing/ And maybe learn to love yourself again / This holy somewhere we keep trying to find…”
Besides his own songwriting, James Gray is also a recording engineer and producer, and his credits keep stacking up. His studio continues to evolve and amass vintage microphones, preamps and specialty outboard gear. He has most recently worked with Alexandra Babiak, Merv Mulligan, Christina Hutt, Sawyer Lance, and many others. Through his production work, James has also begun to surround himself with some stellar talents such as Brandon Munday (bass), Skip Taylor (drums) and Marion Linton (violin and piano). Learn more about James Gray at: https://www.jamesgraymusic.ca