A long-time fixture of Philadelphia’s bare-knuckled indie rock scene, James Hearne recently packed up his West Philly apartment, taking his wife, his bulldog and his guitar and hitting the road out to the Hudson River Valley in New York - moving into a historic home just spitting distance from the barn where Levon Helm and the Band recorded some of their best work.
Searching for the space to stretch out, a little peace and quiet, and deep inspiration from the woods and streams around Woodstock, Hearne started piecing together a new album that reflected the well-worn path of a true rock journeyman – including endless miles of traveling, loving deeply, fucking up, scraping for dollars and drinking way too many city-wides (not necessarily in that order).
Like Bon Iver finding his voice in the wildwoods of Wisconsin, Hearne crossed the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and drove deep into the Catskills to find his voice, landing in Catskill, NY, where he collaborated with a handful of like-minded musicians (including Eric Parker (Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood), Rob Stein (Mike & Ruthy Band, Amanda Palmer), and Eleanor Kleiner & Elie Brangbour (The Whispering Tree ), as well as a guest spot from legendary bassist Tony Levin) for months on a set of tracks that sound like they come from another time and maybe (just maybe) a slightly better place than the one you’re at right now.
The result is a gorgeous shit-kicker of a new album called “Through Private Wars.”
With deeply soulful steel-sliding barn-burners like “Eight State Arms,” “Two Lanes” and “Strange the Way,” the album announces Hearne as a fully-realized singer-songwriter talent to be reckoned with, and heartfelt tracks like “I’m Afraid of My Heart” will probably end up on the soundtrack of every self-respecting hipster who plans a destination wedding in 2017.
Fans of Jason Isbell’s gut-wrenching, southern-tinged rock will find something they love in Hearne’s powerfully-wrought storytelling and sparse but nimble picking. Those who have embraced the promising modern-meets-classic country spirit of Sturgill Simpson and Lydia Loveless will find a kindred old soul whose work demands repeated listens on long drives. And those who occasionally find their solace from playing a Ryan Adams album loudly and a working their way through a tumbler of whiskey might just have found their new favorite act.