There is currently a handful of critically-acclaimed but commercially has-been artists that still make a decent living gigging in the New York/New Jersey area. Artists like Garland Jeffreys, Willie Nile, and Southside Johnny continually play the area’s many small theaters, clubs, and house concerts while seldom, if ever, venturing outside this proximity. Another artist that successfully operates in this fashion–despite lacking the tenure of these others–is transplanted British singer-songwriter James Maddock.
I first discovered Maddock by “Chance” hearing his delightful song of the same name on the internet station WFUV-FM, a great New York radio station for old music geeks like me. This discovery led me to delve further into the career of this brilliant artist. Maddock actually had a brush with success back in 2000 with the band Wood and their Dawson’s Creek-driven, Top 5 single, “Stay You.”
Last year on a visit to the City, I finally got to see Maddock and his band play at the East Village’s Rockwood Music Hall where he maintains a fairly consistent residency. Seeing Maddock at Rockwood was like seeing The Ramones at CBGBs or Southside Johnny and the Jukes at the Stone Pony. It was a special evening for me to see this talented singer-songwriter and performer play a room that he has learned to call his own. By this time I had devoured all his records and came to the bold conclusion that “Chance” was the best pure pop song I had heard in the last 10 years. I met fan-friendly James after the show. He fully agreed, saying, “I got that one right, didn’t I?”
I really think had he been born in the era of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Jackson Browne, he would be headlining Madison Square Garden today. The support of a New York City radio station like WNEW-FM back then would have been all he needed. I really think he is that good of a writer, singer, and performer.
Starting his career in the wrong century, today Maddock continues to play at Rockwood or somewhere else just about every weekend in the New York area. I was privileged to find a show at the quaint Hamilton Stage theatre in Rahway, NJ on this past trip home. This new little theater seats 180, and it was just about full for Maddock’s 90-minute set. The show was actually a presentation by Split Level Concerts, a local house concert operation that occasionally broadens its scope outside of their house.
The venue was full of Maddock faithful who intently hang onto his every word, and with artist permission, audio/video record his shows. This collective is heavily slanted towards middle-aged women who see Maddock shows as regular as suburban housewives used to play bridge. For instance, I found out that the woman seated next to me was at her 55th Maddock show.
This night’s great performance featured a selection of songs from Maddock’s career-establishing 2009 solo record, Sunrise of Avenue C, through his current¸ Another Life. Like the other “coveted by fans, but not by record labels” artists I mentioned earlier, Maddock’s latest release was fan funded through a PledgeMusic campaign and will see a full release on July 23rd. He also went back to the early Wood days for “Never Ending.” To my delight he included a nice version of “Beautiful Now,” a song that would make a great Valentine’s Day gift for your sweetheart. How Hallmark hasn’t stolen Maddock’s line “You were beautiful then, but you’re way more beautiful now” for a card design concept I just don’t know.
The frequency of his gigs requires Maddock to work with several different band configurations. This show featured a fine one led by the talented keyboardist Oli Rockberger. Maddock closed the night by dismissing the band and offering up a tender reading of one of the newer songs, “My Old Neighborhood” to the muted accompaniment of only Oli’s piano. He then picked up his acoustic guitar and sent us home with the hopeful “Keep Your Dream.”
I encourage you to give the music of James Maddock a listen and see him live if you ever are in the New York area. He mentioned to me how he’d love to record in Nashville. Hopefully, someday, we will get the chance to see him in Music City. To quote one of his songs, I am thankful “when the stars align,” and I get to see him perform while on one of my trips home.
1. Wake Up and Dream
2. Better on My Own
3. Step Into the Water
6. Never Ending (Wood)
7. Beautiful Now
8. Stars Align
9. Another Life
10. What Have I Done?
11. Nearest Thing to Hip
12. I’ve Been There Too
13. My Old Neighborhood
14. Keep Your Dream
James Maddock – Vocals, Harmonica and Guitar
Oli Rockberger – Piano and Electric Piano
Ryan Scott – Guitar
Aaron Steele – Drums
Drew Mortali – Bass