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James Adkins is a folk musician currently living in Ohio, but he has also spent time previously in Florida and Virginia. Consequently, his new album Brokedown Free Man Blues, which he acknowledges is influenced by all of these locations, has a distinctly rustic, traditional American feel. With an album cover reminiscent of Walker Evans’s Depression-era photography, it’s immediately obvious that this is a record steeped in the rich, earthy traditions of Americana’s storied history. Adkins doesn’t ripoff or use the folk that came before him for his own benefit, but respectfully acknowledges his indebtedness to his predecessors and subtly modernizes their innovations for contemporary tastes.
Although Adkins doesn’t possess a classically weathered folk voice like Woody Guthrie, he does have a perfect tone for pop, thus making a song which sounds traditional like “Oh Lord Virginia” far more accessible and current. There is also the odd occasion in which his background in jazz creeps in, and this is most obvious on “You Are So MINE.” But a quintessential earnestness is behind what makes songs like the sparse “Ghost” so immediately beautiful, and Brokedown Free Man Blues is ultimately far more accurate of a self-portrait than anything the artist may have planned.
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