Shawn James is a local musician who can be seen playing his guitar and belting out bluesy-sounding tunes around town through many different avenues — be it busking, bars, restaurants or house shows. If you haven’t seen him, look for his long, dark beard, a sleeve of tattoos and a Subaru that he likes to do little circle tours in a flower pattern around Fayetteville, he said.
After leaving a professional music career to pursue his own musical inspirations in Fayetteville, James & The Shapeshifters released their first EP of the “Shapeshifter Trilogy” called “The Wolf” in January. “The Bear” is being planned for the spring and “The Hawk” is planned to complete the trilogy in the fall of 2013.
Originally from Chicago, James grew up playing music in orchestra and singing opera, he said. “The Wolf” is James’ third release since pursuing music as an independent artist, previously singing for a hardcore band in Florida. His previous release, “Shadows” was a blues-pop and folk album with broad, accessible inflections and reality-television worthy vocal cords.
“The Wolf,” James’ latest, is a short downer folk-garage orchestra about a man raised by wolves, wandering endlessly, unsure of his identity and unable to control his viciousness, and his death. It is a darker departure from “Shadows,” and is influenced in part by J. Tillman’s solo work before joining the Fleet Foxes, James said. “The Wolf” is based on a demo that James had recorded in Chicago, inspired by a painting his wife had bought him.
The album begins with a dilatorily simple instrumental called “Beginning of the End” that introduces the EP’s spook-crowing fiddle and bellowing cold tone. “The Wild One” follows, and starts the story simply when James belts, “He was raised by wolves/ in a distant land.” James croons a tale of a young wolf-raised boy struggling to find an identity to a pensive guitar, whining fiddle and resolute piano.
“Son of the Wolf” delights in the EP’s dark themes. The fiddle writhes alongside a near constant tremoloing mandolin as James howls how “the wild cares not for the weak.” It is a rousing arc and centerpiece of the story.
“The Bear” will be another switch in directions to a more “raw” sound, featuring steel guitar and nodding influence to Son House and Muddy Waters, James said. “The Hawk” will be centered on the piano, he said.
“If there’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s pigeon-hole myself,” James said. “I have a lot of musical influences and I want to do everything.”
You can listen to “The Wolf” on Spotify or all of James’s music at shawnjamessoul.bandcamp.com. He will be playing a free show at the Stolen Glass this Saturday and a CD release party for “The Wolf” should happen in March, he said.