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Fantastic Voyage 

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Album Review

San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Susan James' second album is an interesting hybrid. Disc one, subtitled "Lovesick," is a collection of ten vocal songs that pick up exactly where her debut, 1996's Shocking Pink Banana Seat, left off. Backed by an eclectic group of guests, including ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson on nearly every song and the Wondermints singing a glorious, Beach Boys-like four-part harmony on the enchanting closer, "Spinning Down," James sings her idiosyncratic tunes with such directness and honesty that (unlike fairly similar artists like Tori Amos), she never seems to be playing the "freaky rock chick" card. However, disc two is the real gem; subtitled "Stranger Bedfellows," these ten songs are entirely instrumental. Rather than sounding like unfinished songs lacking vocal tracks, these songs are actually more fully-formed than the songs on the vocal disc. James, a talented guitarist with a folk and blues background, craftily builds the melodies on electric and acoustic guitars and mandolin. These are not unformed improvisations, but smart, well-constructed miniatures that hold the listener's interest throughout. Fantastic Voyage might seem like an excuse for self-indulgence, but, surprisingly, it's the most experimental tracks that work the best.


Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s

According to legend, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers, saw Susan James playing in a club and asked if she had any recordings for sale. When she said no, he returned to her next performance and handed her 10,000 dollars to make a demo tape. Whether that's true or merely a fanciful invention for a press release, it's likely that the Orange County-based James is the only musician to play with both the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and the Replacements' Tommy Stinson. James, a skilled guitarist...
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Fantastic Voyage , Susan James
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