Barrie-James: Strange DesireBarrie-James

(Vacancy Records)

CD | LP | DL

Out Now

Glasgow-based singer-songwriter Barrie-James brings his own unique take on alternative country to the fore as he releases his third solo album, Strange Desire. And with the help of friends like Ashley Campbell, daughter of Glen Campbell, and Lana Del Rey this proves to be an interesting mix of melodic and melancholic styles.

For those who are less familiar with Barrie-James, he formed his first band, Kassidy, in Glasgow in 2009, releasing two albums which could best be described as mash up of alternative folk and indie rock. His solo career began in 2014, initially under the moniker of Nightmare Boy, after which a move to the bright lights of Los Angeles beckoned. Since then he has recorded two albums prior to this current one. The connection with singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey dates back to around 2013 and has included recording, writing and touring commitments right up to the present day, noting that he has written four songs on her latest album.

Given that Barrie-James has never been an artist to stand still in terms of his musical styling, I approached this album with a very open mind. As he explained that “the words and music are all inspired by feelings of lust, love and fear and hope” and that he aimed “to bring a different style and mood to the world of country music”, I was intrigued to see what direction his work was now going in. And I have to say I was not disappointed.

Opening song Angry Man eased me slowly into the album with an acoustic guitar and his trade mark dark, gritty and sultry vocal delivery. With a hauntingly beautiful melody and a deeply emotional narrative, this song builds as the orchestral soundscapes sweep in. Already I’m hooked by the immediacy of this song which oozes a sense of loss and longing and I really don’t think I have heard a voice smolder like this in a long time. This is not a song I will forget in a hurry.

Country 33 has a more classic country feel about it very much in the spirit of Steve Earle, driven by guitars and fiddles and lovely vocal harmonies. This one has a real swing to it and the sweet vocals of Ashley Campbell contrast with Barrie-James much deeper tones in such an effective way. Little doubt here that the late great Glen Campbell would approve……. “so sad to see you go” indeed. Solid Rose is a much more stripped-down acoustic affair with a haunting and ethereal vocal as he tries to assure his lover that “you are my girl”.

Pretending Not To Breathe is another largely acoustic ballad with a dreamy vibe overwhelmed with a sense of heartache and solace as someone tries to hide away from the world and their problems. Emerald Girl has a much brighter and positive note about it before Bad Girl takes us back down a much darker road centred around a difficult relationship, with a strumming style which takes me back to the Beatles Abbey Road era.

Title track Strange Desire is riddled with ’60s psychedelia amidst a sense of longing and seriously conflicting emotions, before Open To Magic returns to a more dreamier vibe. Anything is another real highlight on the album as it harks back to the sound and style of early Dylan and tries to offer a real sense of comfort and assurance that all will be well. Both That’s Alright and Lady Alone have a more upbeat sound in contrast to the often solemn message within the lyrics.

Closing song Riverside starts off like a classic Nick Cave ballad with a haunting vocal overlaying piano chords, all of which evoke a real sense emotion as he “finally gets closer to the dream.” As the melody builds, Lana Del Rey’s typically dreamy and entrancing vocals help to bring the song to an almost climactic ending.

Strange Desire is an album full of contrasts and contradictions with often bright and upbeat musical soundscapes overlaying more dark and sombre narratives. Maybe this is something that has been shaped by Barrie-James move from Glasgow to the warmer West Coast climate of the USA but, whatever the reason, it really does work.

Country music is often a storyboard for myth and legend but there is no doubt Barrie-James has created his own version of alternative country to tell stories in his own authentic way. His warm, sultry and often gritty vocal delivery blends perfectly with this finely-honed melodic and brooding set of songs to create a truly intimate, emotional and often entrancing album.

You can buy Strange Desire here.

You can find Barrie-James on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and his website.


All words by Ian Corbridge. You can find more of his writing at his author profile.

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I am a Sheffield lad with a lovely wife, 3 great kids and a passion for the Owls and all things rock'n'roll. I am a product of the John Peel generation whose life was changed by the New York Dolls and The Clash. But no one tells a story better than Dylan and no one rocks as good as the Stones. Since seeing The Small Faces in 1977 I have been to well over 1,000 gigs and ain't gonna stop any time soon. All music is good but some of it just does not feed my soul. I've been writing about it for LTW since June 2019.


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