James Houlahan is a self-admitted late bloomer. He didn’t play in a band until he was 25 and didn’t make a record until he was 31. In this day and age of 13-year-old YouTube stars, I’m pretty sure that makes him an outlier. What he gained, though, was a life experience and sense of self-awareness that he channels through his music. The Angeleno’s fourth record, Beyond the Borders, is certainly a reflection of that.
The first few songs explore the doubts everyone had during the pandemic about where you were and where you should be. Far From Me starts the CD and is a good introduction to Houlahan’s smoke and whiskey-tinged vocal delivery. It starts with, literally, the sound of rain-swollen streams down Topanga Canyon and muses that “the answers are always so far away.” Lonesome Love manages an open, spacious sound that perfectly accompanies, “walking through the desert, looking for a place to land.” It has funky, twangy combination, whereas the next song, Merge, is more of an indie vibe, with a little touch of 50’s style harmony.
The latter half of the project shifts to more story-telling pieces. O What Is That Sound is a W.H. Auden poem set to music relating to a hopefully-fictional tale of soldiers rounding up ordinary citizens. Neil Young’s Powderfinger gets a little lighter treatment, but Houlahan’s voice still conveys the resolve and resignation of the protagonist. And the Horse Began To Dance is a great story of Crazy Horse’s legendary steed. The album finishes with You Are Free, an upbeat, almost reggae number about how accepting what is can truly set you free.