Morgan James joins Music Journeys to chat about her latest album Nobody’s Fool, a return to her R&B roots. James details the inspiration for the songs, and she carries that 90's vibe into her Fast Five selections too. Morgan James - our featured guest on this edition of Music Journeys. Thanks for listening.
Everybody opens the 12-track Nobody's Fool release from Morgan James.
"This collection of songs is probably my most cohesive record to date," James said. "It's definitely a journey informed by the best of 90's R&B. My first record, Hunter, was an R&B record, and I wanted to return to that eventually. Once we leaned into that nostalgia with original music, we got excited to play with that."
Also known for honoring artists that have influenced her journey in music, James wanted one special cover for the album, which she recorded in Memphis, Tennessee. Jeff Buckley came to mind.
Everybody Here Wants You plays...
"We wanted it to be the Jeff tune Everybody Here Wants You, in part because he died in Memphis on the trip where he was going to record his second album which was going to include that song," James noted. "We wanted to pay homage to his memory and throw something up to him because he was such a special singer and songwriter."
The love of singing and songwriting for James can be traced back to frequent family moves and her parents vinyl collection.
"I was born in Boise, and we moved 17 or 18 times by the time I was a sophomore in high school," James recalled. "Lots of road trips. I can hear the cassette being flipped over. My parents had a huge collection. We had such eclectic tastes in music at home, and I think that informed a really wide love and taste in music. The fact that music was always playing certainly gave me the impression that music is part of gathering and a part of joy and happiness in your life."
Let Me Keep You plays...
"Music and theatre and the arts chooses you," James said. "I joined a choir in 7th grade. "I would see my dad direct shows because he was a drama teacher. I would see my mom perform in shows, so I had an appreciation for it. But where I found my own love for it was joining choir and discovering that I had a voice that people wanted to hear and finding musical theatre and singing in a real serious way. By the time I got to high school, I couldn't be convinced otherwise."
Another inspiration came in a family Christmas gift.
"My grandma got me a karaoke machine for Christmas when I was 11 or 12," James recalled. "My grandparents heard me sing, and my grandmother thought I had talent and agreed to pay for voice lessons as long as I was serious about it. She paid weekly for my voice lessons until I was well out of college. It was just a special thing we shared. She was a big part of me getting the training that I really wanted."
The Sweetest Sound plays...
"My journey was a circuitous path and not something I knew I would embark upon," James reflected. "I wanted to be on Broadway. I was cooking along doing theatre and adjacent things. I started a band and wondered what the next step should be. Then I met Berry Gordy Jr. and he took a liking and became a real mentor and friend. He got me a record deal and encouraged me to keep writing and creating. He has been an incredible force in my life. I got signed to Sony before I had any songs. I just got signed just as a voice. One of the other big milestones was Prince hearing my cover of Call My Name. He loved it and allowed me to release it and gave his blessing for me to do a video."
Call My Name Plays...
Call My Name was the first song James ever arranged. The late Prince also inspired a track on her latest album.
Nobody's Fool But Mine plays...
"That's basically our attempt (Doug and I) to write a Prince song or something we think would be in the Prince vein," James said of the track Nobody's Fool But Mine. "I'm really proud of the song I'll Be Holding On, which features the Morgan State University Choir. That song is a dedication to a friend we lost last year, and it was really us trying to process our grief."
I'll Be Holding On plays...
"Doug and I were going through a real crisis with two of our best friends that were sick," James said. "My best friend pulled through, and his did not. It's become something that's really helped us grieve - to do the only thing we know how to do and that's make music."
James' husband Doug Wamble co-wrote, arranged, and produced Nobody's Fool and plays guitar on every track.
"It's so special and meaningful and rare," James said of being able to experience life and music with her husband. "We're really lucky that we like eachother enough to be together 24 hours a day. We're so lucky to have found a musical partnership that has really transformed both of our lives. We have so much fun. This musician life is so hard. If you don't have someone to do it with, it's even harder. We're so lucky."
Let It In plays...
"We wrote it awhile back and when I got into the booth, I didn't like the chorus," James recalled of finishing the song Let It In. "Doug said just write a new chorus, and we rewrote the chorus right in the booth. It became one of my favorites. It's a real testament to being flexible with your ideas, and I just love how it turned out."
It's a flexibility and a freedom that's only made possible by being an independent artist.
"Everything I do is made possible because I'm independent and have freedom," James continued. "I'm so hands on. I want people to know that it came from me authentically. Nobody answers my social media posts but me. I'm so lucky to do that. Are there things made harder by being independent - of course. There's a blessing and a curse to having that. I have an amazing management team and agents, but at the end of the day I have to get it all done myself. It's all very tiring, but I would never trade the freedom and creative opportunity that I have."
Like I Do plays...
"This was one song we started writing a few years back with Raphael Saadiq," James said of the interludes on Nobody's Fool. "We recorded this with the intent of finishing it. I got dropped from the label, and the song got lost. Then I thought we could record them and make them little interstitial moments so that the mood can continue throughout the album. I'm glad that what we created has a little bit of life."
Take Away My Sorrow plays...
"It's the way I process everything from joy to grief and everything in between," James said of music. "I don't know what I would do without it. When the pandemic hit, the reason I was okay was because Doug and I were together and could still make music. I'm so thankful live music is back. Music is the way I know how to go through life."
James has several tour dates including performances in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Learn more about James and see the tour dates here.