There seems to be a central theme running through James Dalton's new album, "Butterflies and Passerbys", and that theme would be "Jersey." But hold on a second-this album sounds like it could have been recorded at Sun or Muscle Shoals studios, or in some steamy back woods shack. It's a hearty collection of blues and folk tales, peppered with acoustic guitar, beautiful mandolin breaks and harmonica solos(Dalton is quite the Harp player).
But, getting back to the Jersey thing, there are actually only a few mentions of Dalton's New Jersey upbringing, such as this line in the upbeat ballad, "The House My Grandfather Built." "They say Jersey's nice this time of year, she gently whispers in your ear, your face is long and you're feeling oh so old, and there's a dialogue between the country and your old soul..." Dalton seems to be lamenting lost youth with lines like "Goodbye, Trenton Avenue, so loud, so loud, you want to sing, but the banjo in your lap has got broken strings." The harp solo on this anthem would certainly fit in anywhere on Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks."
The slower and more sentimental track, "Wednesday Night Mass", is in a major key, but has the feel almost of a minor key dirge. This beautiful tune really showcases Dalton's vocal abilities as well as his proficiency with a blues harp. The lyrics seem to evoke the feelings of a child who is getting dressed for church, but would much rather be playing football, or doing just about anything else: "Well, the Wednesday night mass for students has come to an end, and I wish I would let it slip my mind, the clouds come and clouds go by, but they always seem to hang around my sky..."
Dalton, although originally from New Jersey, is very well traveled, according to his bio, and he has the well worn passport to prove it. He's played tiny pubs and festivals, clubs like the Bitter End and Stone Pony, and even ships at sail on the Baltic Sea. The haunting tune "Senator's Square", which is certainly comprised of some minor chords, has some of the best lyrics on the album: "She lost faith in the revolution, a red jacket like a rose in the snow, cute smile, cute revolver too, she's the darling of the Helsinki Metro..." There is a mellifluous, Eastern sounding mandolin solo in the middle of this one, which ties the whole story together.
The deep and dense "Senator's Square" is followed by the straight up Country Blues tune, "Alafaya Mama", which really showcases Dalton's grittier vocal and harp style. Intertwined throughout the diverse ditties on this solid album are very short instrumentals such as "Kiss of the Dark Haired Girl" and "Spout and Ivy."
"Butterflies and Passerbys" is musically and lyrically impressive, but it's most impressive quality is the way it tells a story. It's certainly not a concept album, but rather a book of fairy tales from a wandering bard from Jersey.