Mic Check: Pony Bradshaw brings ‘Calico Jim’ to life on new album

Based in Chatsworth, Americana singer James "Pony" Bradshaw releases his new album, "Calico Jim," on Jan. 29, 2021.
Based in Chatsworth, Americana singer James "Pony" Bradshaw releases his new album, "Calico Jim," on Jan. 29, 2021.

Credit: Bekah Jordan

Credit: Bekah Jordan

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

James “Pony” Bradshaw is a storyteller. A guy who spends as much time reading Dostoevsky and Charles Joyner as he does crafting his own vivid songs.

Born in coastal Mississippi but raised mostly in East Texas, Bradshaw has lived in Chatsworth for almost 16 years and still savors the quiet environment where he spends time with his three children.

His new album, “Calico Jim,” arrived Jan. 29. Filled with imagery inspired by his North Georgia surroundings and fused with an Americana backbone with hints of bluegrass and country, Bradshaw’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut, “Sudden Opera,” leaves an imprint.

Songs such as the haunting “Dope Mountain,” the country rambler “Foxfire” and the fiddle-soaked “Sawtoothed Jericho” spotlight not only Bradshaw’s warm voice, but lyrical authenticity.

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While he wishes he could play shows to help support the new release, Bradshaw is also pragmatic about current realities.

“I’m in no hurry to get back out there,” he said. “But I’m lucky I have my kids because otherwise I’d turn into a real recluse, sitting inside reading and writing all day.”

Here is what else Bradshaw had to say in a recent conversation.

Based in Chatsworth, Americana singer James "Pony" Bradshaw releases his new album, "Calico Jim," on Jan. 29, 2021.
Based in Chatsworth, Americana singer James "Pony" Bradshaw releases his new album, "Calico Jim," on Jan. 29, 2021.

Credit: Bekah Jordan

Credit: Bekah Jordan

Q: Where did your nickname come from?

A: Me and my old guitarist were looking for a band name for an open mic at Eddie’s Attic and he called me Pony like, twice, for no reason, and said, “Hey, how about Pony Bradshaw? It sounds like a band name.”

Q: How did the pandemic affect your career momentum?

A: Our last show was February twentysomething at Eddie’s. It’s been a slow build getting folks to come to shows and we had close to 100 there and 70 pre-sales and thought, finally we’re making some headway. And boom, it’s over. We were going to play Shaky Boots and that fell through. I played in June after a guy reached out to me on Instagram. He wanted me to play outside at his farm for a private party in Virginia, so luckily we did that, just me and (guitarist) Cody (Ray). That sparked a relationship and he and his brothers backed the new record (financially). I was with Rounder (Records), but it just wasn’t my thing… I wanted to control when I put records out and how and what’s on them. I want to put one out every year, the early part of the first quarter every year until I don’t have material. I’m not some strategic guy who sits on things ‘til the right moment. I know it’s not the most biz savvy approach.

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Q: You recorded “Calico Jim” in August at Fellowship Hall Sound in Arkansas. How did the pandemic affect the process?

A: One of the players, Philippe (Bronchtein), he plays pedal steel and keyboards, he did his work remotely. He felt more comfortable and I didn’t blame him. We agreed to not come down if there were any symptoms or if anyone wasn’t comfortable. We all stayed in the house together and didn’t go anywhere or do anything and then quarantined when we got back to Georgia.

Q: What was the goal with this album, moving forward from “Sudden Opera”? It seems as if your location in North Georgia was a big inspiration.

A: It was and it still is. I don’t even see writing as an individual song thing any more — it’s always a record in my mind. It’s a place, too. I don’t think a lot of folks talk about North Georgia and I don’t think they write about it in songs. The South has many pockets. There’s this big blanket and if you’re from the South, it’s usually New Orleans or Mississippi. But they all have their culture and it inspires me.

Q: What have you been listening to?

A: I admit I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. I read more. I’ve always been a big fan of James McMurtry; I still listen to his last one (“Complicated Game”). I mostly listen when I cook. The new Jeff Tweedy (“Love is the King”), it’s interesting sonically. But I read so much — I’m a big fan of Wendell Berry — essays, fiction. I got a few gifts for Christmas that are the epitome of a guy getting old.

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