Possessed by Paul James - Cold and Blind (Cover Artwork)

Possessed by Paul James

Cold and Blind (2008)

Voodoo Rhythm / Shake Your Ass

Jon Konrad Wert, the one-man band known as Possessed by Paul James, is a conflicted man. He grew up in a religiously devout Mennonite society. His father was a preacher. His mother was a piano teacher. Somewhere in his past he discovered pre-World War blues and an antithetical lifestyle to his Amish-like upbringing.

Wert plays banjo, guitar, mandolin, violin and a "stomp-box" (which is, apparently, a board attached to a tambourine that one pounds on with his or her foot). He plays in a passionate fervor of outbursts, hooting and hollering as if on fire, or, as his project name suggests, possessed. His sound is a restrained explosion of old blues and country. He's got some demons, and he spits them out and eats them back up.

The lyrics on Cold and Blind point to a man struggling with morality. Pained by love, reveling in sexuality, drowned by whiskey and guilt. In "Vodka and a Fight" he sings ambiguously about a relationship gone ill. His guilt-ridden narrative fights between self-hatred and a self-appointed martyrdom. Towards the end of the song his finds comfort by reverting memories back to his religious childhood. "My father's on his knees and he's praying to Christian / Lay down your arms, Open them up so wide and kiss all the baby boys and girls and say goodnight." "Ferris Wheel" is catchiest song on the album. He compares life to a uncontrollable, sick circus ride you can't get off of. It talks about the cyclical nature of life -- of daily routines and falling back into bad habits after periods of reform. None of this is groundbreaking lyrical territory, but it the way it comes out of Wert it feels like a flood of self-discovery.

Cold and Blind is a collection of rather lo-fi live songs -- some were recorded with an audience and others, unedited songs that sound like they were recorded in an empty living room. The raw recording documents this aural torrent perfectly, like an unedited home video of a tornado's destruction. He dynamically blends rageful stomps and quiet gut-spilling country ballads, deep-throated barks and meek Daniel Johnston-like singing.

It sometimes feels like outsider out, maybe because it feels so very honest amidst our musical universe of blips-and-bloops gimmickry, self-conscious cool, tight pants and hundred-dollar haircuts. To label Possessed by Paul James as a revivalist act would cheapen the music and the man. Old-world blues is the timeless vessel for Wert's emotions. My god, check this out.