Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
To fully appreciate James Wallace (a.k.a. Skyway Man), it helps to understand his background. The auteur is the ultimate Nashville outsider having worked with his hometown Richmond, Virginia’s Spacebomb collective and his own alternative — some might say experimental — folksy Naked Light band among other under-the-radar projects over the past decade. Along the way he’s picked up some high profile fans in the form of Alabama Shakes’ frontwoman Brittany Howard, but in Nashville he can be seen as a provocateur; a guy unafraid to push boundaries that transform pop into art. He continues that endeavor under his newest alias, Skyway Man.
It’s as good a name as any to lead a collective of nearly 20 musicians who have contributed to his debut under this moniker. By any measure, Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye (available as a double vinyl set only) is an audacious example of what his press release calls “folk futurism.” The song cycle’s concepts are largely too obtuse to easily untangle, but the lyrics are sung in the first person and seem in part to be about living in a dystopian society.
Wallace’s sweet, boyish voice makes even extended tracks like the wordy, nine-plus minute “Wires (Donny Angel and the Opening Wide)” go down easy, even if inscrutable lyrics such as “And if your sky catches fire ‘cause the tank crushed the car with the family inside/ and you fly from reason like sparks or rocks that you kick down the street with your heels while you’re waiting for the community van that takes you and your bag someplace that you’ve never been before”… phew … are a mouthful to unravel.
Musically, the twisted but melodic tunes encompass a variety of sounds, including but not limited to colorful psychedelic rock, lighter Beatles-styled pop, and a skewed Nilsson/Donovan chamber style that, even with multi-tracked instrumentation, including creative use of horns and string arrangements, stays frothy and generally bubbly. A sunlit prog-folksy instrumental titled “The Dedication of Giant Rock” splits the album in two pieces, giving the listener a break from having to scrutinize the lyrically dense songs.
Those more dedicated to the Wallace cause can spend the necessary effort disentangling the concept, but even for those who take a pass on that task, this is an impressive, bold, and ambitious 53-minute work. Wallace is clearly talented and you can tell he’s referring to himself, and perhaps the creation of this four-sided opus, when he sings “Visions and the sound of my blood/ have been keeping me awake at night.”
You may want to down a few cups of coffee and join him.