We Had a Big Back Yard
"McCandless is indisputably one of the area's finest song craftsmen...Intelligent folk music that defies easy classification..." Mike Parrish, Chicago Tribune "Imagine you're browsing through an antique store. There's some junk there, and some flashy, expensive stuff. Then you run across a simple but beautifully designed and finished piece, made entirely by hand. That's what McCandless' songs are like. When asked about his influences, he is likely to mention the Dutch painter Peter Brueghel," Andrew Calhoun, Waterbug Records "There's a rough edge to McCandless and his work, but maybe it's because he's saying something edgy. Many of his songs are born of a compassion and a responsibility, a reason he's out there singing despite his claim to just be courting the tapping toes of the record-buying public." Frank Tedesso, The Reader McCandless draws on his personal experiences in Montana, Illinois and Ireland, whether real or partly imagined. Who said history has to be accurate anyway? If you say, "I went to the store to buy a loaf of bread", what good is that? But if you say, "I went to Blarney Castle to pick some shamrocks and was hit on the head with a croquet mallet and kidnapped by The Royal Family", now you've got something! In other words, Jim is a big bullshitter. But then, so is the 2000 Year Old Man! So, I ask you...who cares? His music has been recorded by Kat Eggleston, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill, Jimmy Moore, Sean Keane, Arty McGlynn, Nollaig Casey, Bell & Shore, Susan Shore & Don Stiernberg, Dan Bern, and Body Parts; he has worked with Julianne Macarus, John Williams, Hayes & Cahill, Larry Nugent, Gan Ainm, Liz Carroll, Buddy Mondlock, Frank Tedesso, Jano, Andrew Calhoun, Victor Sanders, Brian Anderson, Jim Craig and Tom Dundee. Jim has also performed with P.J. Hayes, Greg Brown, Joan Baez, Odetta, Chris Smither, Sean O'Driscoll, Claudia Schmidt, John Fahey, Tim O'Brien, Jim Post, Natalie McMaster and Tom Paxton. "A few years ago, a friend sent me a tape she had recorded off the radio in Wisconsin that included a song called "Faultline", a song of disasters from the Titanic to the nuke meltdown, all considered impossible. After I tracked it down, James McCandless' first album became one of my year's favorites. While there is no song on "Back Yard" that rattles the bones like that song, the overall effect of the album is far stronger, far more assured and just plain better. McCandless is unavoidably compared to John Prine, as he has the same twang in his voice and a similar ability to take the simplest events and make them seem monumental and close to the heart at the same time. And his characters are far more three-dimensional than most songwriter's, as in the "Neighborhood Boy" who's not "a quiet boy...not a choirboy", lives a life of Lucky Strikes, marine camp and a steady job, a tough but good guy like the kind every working class looks to with a mixture of love and disdain. My favorites? Probably "Black Silk Hat", a simple little ditty about a friend's new chapeau, and how it changed his life, what with winning elections, swimming to London and wowing the ladies, claiming Red China and eventually driving "up to Heaven in a Cadillac." The other is the title cut, an ode to working-class suburbia and it's' yards "big enough for three tents full of kids...big enough for the grownups to drink beer and play cards, for some hearts to get bruised, for some to fall in love". There is also a swell ragtime tune about St. Francis, who "smoked little panatelas when he took his coffee break from the birds", called "This Must Be Paradise". Overall, "Back Yard" is a sardonic, but loving look at hometown America and it's' odd little families of characters and heroes..." Cliff Furnald, Dirty Linen.