While James Maddock’s 2015 release, Green, was full of nostalgia and some feel-good gems, the veteran singer-songwriter reveals an angrier side on his latest effort Insanity vs. Humanity. Somehow, the album, which is been out for two months now, seems to have fallen a bit under the radar yet his honest statement certainly demands more attention. And, unlike many angry albums, this is eminently listenable.
Maddock admits, “I don’t think you can change people’s opinions with a song. A Trump supporter isn’t going to turn into a socialist, just because they listened to something I wrote. But that can’t stop me from talking about the world we all live in. I had to write about these insane times, and I wanted to do so in a way that wasn’t one-dimensional or phony.”
Having lived in NYC since the early turn of the millennium, Maddock takes this opportunity to rail against capitalism, dictators and the suppression of equal rights. The most blatant example is “Fucked Up World” with its line “you can smile all day but it’s a fucked up world” where Maddock laments the killers in D.C. and the class divide. Maddock eases into his boiling anger with the opener “I Can’t Settle,” reaching full fury on just the second cut, “Watch It Burn” (“I don’t mind a little violence against the system.”)
The single “What the Elephants Know” is perhaps the album’s most memorable cut, decrying humanity for its faulty choices and lack of instincts. “Kick the Can” is an uplifting melody to feeling powerless while the title track is as direct as its name suggests but its Beatlesque chorus at the end softens the wrath. “November Tale” was co-written with Waterboys frontman Mike Scott and appeared on the Waterboys 2015 release Modern Blues. Maddock’s version is a bit more restrained.
The British-born, now NYC resident Maddock is now entering his fourth decade. His is one of those rare singular voices that stands apart – a combination of his trademark honeyed rasp, British accent, gift for melody, and weathered warmth. Of course, Maddock was the front man for the British band Wood in the ‘80s so he didn’t just sneak up on us. He is a rock n’ roll lifer, poking fun at himself and his peers in “The Old Rocker.”
Backed by his core road band of NYC musicians, Aaron Comess (Spin Doctors) – drums, Drew Mortali – bass, and Ben Stivers – keys with Maddock on all guitars; the lineup augments with Joy Askew and Garland Jeffries on backing vocals as well as David Immergluck (Counting Crows) on mandolin. The bulk of the 11 songs were laid down in just two days. Maddock comments, “This is the honest sound of the band playing the songs. It’s not an overly complex record. I wanted it to sound as natural as it does when we play live. It’s what happens when you get four guys together into the same room teach them the songs, and press record.”
The subject matter may often be dark, but the music is surprisingly brisk and uplifting in its melodies and choruses. Stivers keyboards are especially strong throughout and Maddock, per usual, comes across as a compelling storyteller and spokesperson.