James Cramer has earned his musical reputation as the frontman for his band Tupelo, which has achieved wide acclaim for their original ballads that do their part to keep the traditional Irish folk scene fresh. To see him as a solo act proves to be an entirely different performance, with lilting piano ballads and strong vocals carrying the kind of lyrics you expect to hear at a slow dance or when you’re crying over a breakup. Listen to “Yesterday’s News” and tell me I’m wrong.
For most of the act, it’s just James Cramer on the stage, with the fire in the upstairs venue roaring and everyone in the room listening intently. He’s surrounded by an assortment of beautiful guitars, and a tiny ukulele-type thing, which is apparently called a timples, made in the Canary Islands, or so I later learn from James’ emails. He soon proves that not only does he know the name and origin of every instrument, he knows how to use them, with vocals that are more than capable of keeping up. He plays an original set list, and though we may not know all the words, he’s more than willing to be patient and teach us. His single, “Broken,” may only clock in at a few minutes, but by the end of his live performance, we’ve all got the chorus down.
Toward the end of the gig, he invites the lads from Tupelo up for a few tunes, and it becomes a different show entirely. It’s a true testament to Cramer’s range that he’s able to hold up a solo show and seamlessly switch to the kind of timeless jam session that’s been playing throughout Irish pubs for years. They stick to most of their own material, with songs like “Push On” and “Break Loose.” This is the part of the gig where you really have to be there, feeling the floor shake under the weight of everyone stomping their feet in time to the rhythm. While both Cramer’s solo act and the boys from Tupelo will always put on a fantastic gig each on their own, the opportunity to see both at once is a rare one, and not to be missed.