Skyway Man Shares “Sometimes Darkness/Railroad/Sometimes Darkness Reprise” Alongside a Playlist of Influences
James Wallace’s new record The World Only Ends When You Die drops October 23.
When he isn’t penning most of the jarringly beautiful compositions that soundtrack Joe Pera Talks With You (with the exception of “Baba O’Riley,” of course), James Wallace records music as the freak folk artist Skyway Man—though that “freak folk” designation, to be fair, applies more so to the complex, psychedelic narratives that underlie his slightly cosmic strain of folk.
The latest taste of his new record, The World Only Ends When You Die, arrives today with the epically titled “Sometimes Darkness/Railroad/Sometimes Darkness Reprise,” which comes complete with a watercolor visual. Parts of the track may sound familiar, as the “Railroad” portion is a cover of The Great White Jenkins’ (a collaboration between Andy Jenkins and Matthew E. White they started in “a time of tours booked via MySpace and CD-Rs with elaborate packaging,” per Jenkins) 2008 single, while the roots of “Sometimes Darkness” have been around much longer.
“‘Sometimes Darkness’ is based on a traditional Gospel song ‘I Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Jesus,” Wallace notes. “Mississippi Fred McDowell and Blind Rosevelt Graves both have done versions of this tune which I deeply enjoy. Whereas the original praises a steadfast walk with the Lord, mine focuses more on the conflict therein.”
“‘Railroad’ is a ballad about the wind playing tricks with your heart,” Jenkins chimes in. “And if the chariot swings too low, won’t we all get wrecked? It’s a great joy to hear Skyway Man resurrect it so skillfully and with such verve. Fun Trivia: Pinson Chanselle played on both versions!”
Stream the track below and keep scrolling for a playlist curated (and with commentary) by Wallace..
Norfolk Jazz and Jubilee Quartet, “Stand By the Bedside of a Neighbor”
These guys hail from Norfolk, VA. They’re my favorite gospel vocal group. Here they’re singing about sneaking a message from the living world to the dead. Somehow it feels like a very hopeful way to sing about death. This song came my way via cassette from a congregation member at the Mennonite Brethren Church in Boone, NC. I played piano in the service for a couple months during college. It was taped from a gospel radio broadcast from Greensboro, NC back in the 1960s.
Andy Jenkins, “Curve of Love”
Andy is a great friend and one of my all time favorite songwriters. This song (and record) reminds me of the James River. But then again, lots of Spacebomb work leaves me homesick for Richmond in one way or another. This track features pretty much the same Spacebomb house band rhythm section that played on “Muddy Water,” and probably had much to do in the way of inspiring the direction of the tune itself. I can’t get enough of Alan Parker’s low guitar bends.
Canned Heat, “My Time Ain’t Long”
Like so many other white suburban millennials under a hot summer TV spell in the ’90s, Alan Wilson’s voice cut right through to me the first time I heard “Goin Up the Country” on a car commercial or some rehashed Woodstock retrospective on VH1. Seriously though, that initially somewhat “meek” tone to his voice delivers so much energy. It gave me the confidence I needed as a teenager to embrace my boyish half-falsetto. Coming from a guy who’s time was way too short on this planet, this song hits extra hard. And fuck, that callback jam at the end. I highly recommend the Mississippi Records Blind Owl Wilson album.
Jerry Reed, “Gator”
Gotta thank Teddy and the Rough Riders for opening my eyes to a new world of backroom country music on long van rides. More specifically, this track comes at me via Sean Thompson. This represents “Peak Swamp” in my mind.
The Lostines, “It’s Been Wrong”
Casey Jane and Camille Weatherford of The Lostines are the two queens singing on “Muddy Water” (and many more on the new album), a haunting and genuine thing occurs when their vocals come together. Also: the mighty Sam Doores on organ and psychedelic saloon piano.
Rev. A. Johnson, “Death in the Morning”
Reverend Anderson Johnson, also from Norfolk, Virginia, made a dozen or so sides of his own unique style of blues sermons in the ’50s before retiring from music to paint hundreds of portraits that would become “his congregation.” One of the songs on this new album is based on one of his songs (more on that later). I love how he presents death as a slow creeping character that wins in the end, and resolves the song with a chilling, spoken fact: “Now that’s a true vision of all of us one day, my friends.”
Leonie Evans, “Time”
Another haunted boat ride from the Mashed Potato collective introduced to me via Sam Doores and The Lostines. I dig Leonie’s not-quite-placeable voice inflection. Reminds me of Josephine Foster in that way.
Abner Jay, “Swaunee”
Simply put, this song puts a rainbow over my sky everytime I hear it.
Michael Nau, “The Load”
I don’t want to call out dear bud Michael Nau too hard for making a magnificent love child out of JJ Cale and Harry Nillson on this track. Mostly because this tune just keeps on giving way beyond that matrimony. All I’m saying is that I would happily raise that love child.
Elvis Perkins in Dearland, “123 Goodbye”
In case you needed another nudge in accepting impermanence over the span of time—Elvis Perkins, the living mage, has this covered. This song feels like the preamble to a loved one pushing your sled down a steep, snowy hill, into the unknown. Really inspired me to throw timpanis on “Muddy Water,” only to realize how hard it is to keep them up in the mix.
Frederick Weathersby and Stefan Forbus, “Feeling You Fade”
This song feels like the ride through the void after a final push into the unknown. Stefan’s tone and gentle percussive touch is deeply wise and thoughtful. He’s been a joy to have in the Skyway Man band for the past few years, and this is a quite good album he has made.
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou, “Ballad of the Spirits”
In the depths of this pandemic I’ve pulled out the sheet music for this song many times while I sat in front of my little piano. I’m still only a quarter of the way through, but the process has done much to keep me sane and calm. Since hearing Emahoy’s music for the first time, I can’t approach the piano the same way again.
Lonnie Holley, “In it too Deep”
I’d prescribe this song as the exit music after a twenty-minute meditation focused on draining anxiety. A holy matrimony of Swift and Holley. RIP, Richard.
Shintaro Sakamoto, “Let’s Dance Raw”
Every dark and death-based playlist needs a Bowie-esque ending reprieve to move you back into the light slowly via down tempo ’70s style disco. Thank you for listening. I hope you wind up in a happier, more mindful place than where you began.