James Reams & The Barnstormers plays
old-school bluegrass music.
What do they teach you in the Old-School? The Three E’s, of course: Keep it edgy, emotional and exciting. Listen to James Reams & The Barnstormers for a demonstration!
Stephanie P. Ledgin wrote in her book Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass (Praeger Publishers, 2004): “James Reams & The Barnstormers rely on early country material and originals written in authentic style. The results are a virtual history of the music and its roots, played in a clean, heartfelt manner that is somewhere between Monroe's and the Stanleys'.” And Richard D. Smith wrote in Bluegrass Unlimited: “There are few vocalists as natural as Reams. He doesn't have to try to sound down-home, he's there at each turn in the song.”
The band plays traditional bluegrass music with an old-time country edge, and a sound that’s very much their own. It features driving rhythm and hard-edged harmonies that take you back to a time before bluegrass was smoothed out for the uninitiated, the ill-prepared or the faint of heart. The band includes James on guitar and lead vocals; Mark Farrell on mandolin, fiddle and harmony vocals; Nick Sullivan on upright bass and harmony vocals; and Doug Nicolaisen on banjo.
James Reams formed James Reams & The Barnstormers in 1993. Originally from southeastern Kentucky, James migrated north in his mid-teens when his family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he stayed until he moved to Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1980s. James has played both old-time and bluegrass music since he was a child. There were traditional singers on both sides of his family, and his father played in a string band. His hometown of London, Kentucky, honored him in 2004 for his contributions to the arts and sciences at its annual Laurel County Homecoming.
James is deeply involved in a thriving bluegrass and old-time music community in NYC. He has made several old-time and bluegrass recordings. His original songs (alone and co-written with Tina Aridas) are important additions to the bluegrass repertoire. His guitar playing was highlighted in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine's Masters of Rhythm Guitar column. In addition to leading James Reams & The Barnstormers, he is the organizer of the annual Park Slope Bluegrass/Old-Time Jamboree, an annual music festival he started in 1998 that attracts 700 musicians and fans of traditional music to its workshops, jamming and concerts and is the only event of its kind in or around New York City.
In addition, James is working on a documentary film, Pioneers of Bluegrass Music, in which he interviews some of the first generation of bluegrass musicians about life on the road in the early days of the music. The project is still in production (a 20-minute preview was released on DVD as part of the Troubled Times CD).
Mark Farrell, like James, is no stranger to bluegrass and old-time country music, having played and recorded for many years with a number of bluegrass and old-time string bands, including Major Contay & The Canebrake Rattlers. He also contributes his great arranging talent to many of the band's recordings. His great hoedown fiddling and edgy mandolin playing (as well as his sometimes unpredictable humor) earns him friends wherever he goes. Doug Nicolaisen has been playing banjo with bluegrass bands in the NY tri-state area for the past 17 years. His music incorporates many of the best elements of all the major banjo players yet his style reflects an individuality of its own and adds to the hard-driving energy of the band. The newest member of the Barnstormers, Nick Sullivan, has been playing bass since he was a tot. In the northern woods of Wisconsin he started playing 1950s rock and roll when he was 12 and has covered lots of musical terrain since that time, from ragtime jazz and West African traditional music to early country music and bluegrass. He adds rock-solid bass and great singing to the Barnstormers’ sound.
Masters of Rhythm Guitar
Excerpted from Flatpicking Guitar Magazine
March-April 2001 issue
Although he lives in Brooklyn, New York, old-time music is in James Reams' blood -- and it isn't from a "folk revival" inspired transfusion. He has called New York his home for the past twenty years; however he is perhaps one of the only northern enthusiasts who has vivid memories of sitting on a dirt-floored cabin in the heart of Appalachia and listening to his father and friends playing fiddle, banjo, and guitar music.
Born on a farm in southeastern Kentucky, music has always been a part of James' life. His father's band played at square dances and other local social events and his mother and her sisters sang at family gatherings. James took up the guitar at the age of 12. He learned his first chords from his father and some of the neighbors who played music. His father's advice was, "Don't copy anybody. Have a style of your own." His first experiences playing in front of people were in church backing up gospel trios.
The Mysterious Redbirds 1992-1998 (Copper Creek CD-0188) features James playing with New Lost City Rambler banjoist Tom Paley and fiddler Bill Christophersen.
Regarding his rhythm guitar playing, James can offer us a unique perspective since he is equally fluent in both the old-time and bluegrass styles.
While his work in old-time music requires him to fill all of the rhythmic roles of the band, James says that the bluegrass configuration is a bit different. His main focus in the bluegrass band is to provide the push or drive for the band.
The August 2004 issue of Bluegrass Now had an article about James in its Offstage column. Read about it here. Click here to view article.
Read CD reviews