For Your Grammy Consideration! 

Beyond the Borders is a contender in the first round of voting for Best Folk Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards!

If you are a voting member of the Recording Academy, please consider my work. And if you happen to know any voting members, please spread the word. Thank you!


Press release for new album Beyond the Borders! 



Once Again The Alt-Folk Musician Pairs With Fernando Perdomo, Danny Frankel, And Scarlet Rivera To Create Songs That Combine Themes Of Perseverance And New Beginnings (November 18, 2022) 

Los Angeles, September 2022—James Houlahan is a self-proclaimed late bloomer.  “While I started playing guitar at age 13, I wasn’t in a band until I was 25, and I recorded my first album at age 31. That said, I think any artist needs to cast a wide net out into the world, exploring all kinds of artistic media and all kinds of experience. To continually expand one’s individual vocabulary for expression, so that we can try to put words and sounds to things that seem to defy meaning.” 

Based in Los Angeles, Houlahan has been active on the local music scene since arriving from Boston in 2012.  His music has found its way into commercials, television and movies such as “Little Pink House,” starring Catherine Keener. His records have been lauded by critics with Glide Magazine writing that he is “near the top of must-see and hear indie singer-songwriters.” 

Until the pandemic broke in 2020, he was busy touring, playing stages throughout much of the American West and Europe. Having released two new albums over the past couple of years, he returns to touring with a slew of new songs. Beyond the Borders takes inspiration from folklore, poetry (setting a W.H. Auden poem to music), films, Neil Young, and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. 

This is Houlahan’s fourth album working with Fernando Perdomo and Danny Frankel (Lou Reed, Fiona Apple), and the second time he’s brought in Scarlet Rivera (Bob Dylan) on violin.  Perdomo co-produces with Houlahan and offers his skills on bass and keyboard.  Frankel is on drums and percussion and added to the mix are Joel Martin on pedal steel guitar, Scott Doherty on piano and other keyboards, Leeann Skoda adding vocals along with Houlahan’s wife, Esther on vocals. 

“At this point when I’m writing songs, I’m already thinking of how Fernando and Danny will possibly approach the music.  So the impact of working with them is now being felt as far back as the writing process,” Houlahan observes. “Danny’s creative instincts and professionalism are unmatched.  During tracking for ‘Back to the Start’, we got a great drum track from him.  But the following day he came back with a new section he wanted to add on toms, during the chorus.  It struck me that he was still thinking about how to make the music better even after we thought it was finished.  It definitely added to the sound.” 

“O What Is That Sound” is the W.H. Auden poem that Houlahan set to music. “I’ve worked with Scarlet before on my last album and thought she would be a perfect choice for this song, which explores a moment of personal drama and fear as soldiers approach and raid the home of ordinary citizens, who are caught unaware.  Right before recording her part, Scarlet said to me, ‘I know exactly what to do on this song.’ And she did.  It was right up her alley.  She captured all the restless trepidation, nervous energy, and pulsing drama of the song’s story with her instrument.  It was incredible!” 

Global pandemics and political instability have affected us all. During that time Houlahan, personally, came very close to walking away from writing and playing music.  “I needed to find a way back to music, a way forward, past the pandemic. Things seemed really hopeless for a long time. But slowly as the situation began improving, the songs started coming back to me,” he said. 

“I’ve always trusted that process and tried to be as open as possible to new music. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever had to trust the process as much as I did in writing these songs.  I needed these tunes to help point me in a way forward, a positive direction out of all the isolation and sorrow of the bad times we’ve all been through.  Thankfully, the kinds of songs that came spoke to the issue of re-emergence, of new possibilities.” 

Going against the grain of today’s faster pace and shorter attention spans, Houlahan tends to write and record music that rewards repeated listening.  This album proceeds from the personal to storytelling.  “Beginning with rushing water recorded after winter rains in Topanga, the first few songs are about searching for some kind of resolve. Some kind of motivation to keep going in a dark time,” he said. “Using themes of nature and the elements the album transitions into stories about others around track 6, ‘Through the Water’. Then it’s off into ‘the deep end’ of the album where the boundaries between life and death become more of a theme. ‘And the Horse Began to Dance’ combines history and fiction to tell the story of Lakota leader Sitting Bull’s legendary horse. These heady stories are punctuated by ‘Bloom’, track 12 which aims to bring some kind of peace to it all. And then we finish with an upbeat, positive plunge into the light with ‘You Are Free’, the final track.  I wanted to end things on a lighter note, so to speak.” 

“Through the Water” was based on an old Swedish film that Houlahan admires, Through A Glass Darkly, with the artist taking images from that film and giving them his own spin. “The Deep End” is influenced by his love for Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, channeling songs that seem to penetrate a dark weird world that can only exist in the borderlands of the imagination. He also covers Neil Young’s “Powderfinger”. “I’d heard the Crazy Horse version of this song many times, but the solo version floored me,” he explains. “As someone who often tries to write character-based songs, I think this is a perfect example of embodying the voice and experiences of another.  And I felt that our acoustic band rendering of it could do it some small amount of justice.  Fingers crossed, anyway.” 

Houlahan’s previous releases have been full of slower, sadder songs. For this album, he felt that he needed a little more light and a little more groove.  “I wanted to channel the right energy needed to face the kind of future that is beginning to break, after these past few years of isolation, death, uncertainty, and lost opportunity.  I’m very proud of my last release, but this album takes things in a new and more upbeat direction.” Houlahan found himself dancing in the studio during playback more times than he expected and it became a litmus test for many of the songs.  “When I could dance, it was done.  It definitely felt like we were getting close to something really special with this music.” 

Beyond the Borders straddles both the personal and the universal while offering a message of hope for a brighter future. And if it makes you dance, too—well, that’s just gravy. 

Beyond the Borders releases on Friday, November 18th, 2022.      


Contact:  Kim Grant | KG Music Press | email: kim (at)

New album Beyond the Borders out 11/18/22! 

Beyond the Borders, the sixth full-length album from singer/songwriter James Houlahan, will be released on November 18, 2022. Recorded in Los Angeles at Stairway Studios with producer Fernando Perdomo, the album features 12 original songs and a version of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger.” Houlahan and Perdomo were joined in the studio by drummer Danny Frankel (Lou Reed, k.d. lang, Fiona Apple) and Scarlet Rivera (Bob Dylan) on violin. The songs span both the personal and the universal, combining themes of perseverance and new beginnings while exploring connections between people and the natural world. Houlahan says, “The last few years have brought all of us so much loss. It’s really wreaked a toll on everyone. And it seems like every day the headlines bring more calamity, more uncertainty. The songs on this album were meant to help propel a way forward through all of this, to find some light in all this darkness. They were songs that I needed to write, and I hope they prove useful to others.”

New album! 

New album Ordinary Eye will be released November 20, 2020!

Produced by longtime collaborator Fernando Perdomo, the album was recorded at L.A.'s Reseda Ranch Studios during the weeks leading up to America's Covid-19 quarantine. This context adds new gravity to Houlahan's music, while the A-list studio band—including drummer Danny Frankel (Lou Reed, Fiona Apple, Nels Cline), violinist Scarlet Rivera (Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue) and vocalist Esther Clark—punctuated songs like the Neil Young-inspired "As It Is" with stacked harmonies, brushed percussion and other cinematic flourishes. Rivera's violin adds a folky authenticity to "What Is Our Love" and "Walking Through the Fire," while Houlahan's electric guitar—an instrument he first picked up during his teenage years, and later put to good use during the mid aughts, as lead guitarist for several Boston-based rock bands—functions like a musical paintbrush, adding hazy streaks of Americana ambiance one minute and bursts of countrified color the next. Houlahan even dusts off “The Jailer”—a song from his New England garage-rock days—for a rootsy reimagining.  

Houlahan’s new album doesn't point fingers, it simply presents a vision of a world in upheaval, and a mind doing its best to maintain some semblance of order amidst the chaos. While Ordinary Eye isn't a concept album, its lead track, “As It Is,” still delivers the record's central message. It’s a song about looking past life's ugliness in order to treasure the good that remains. "I wanted to write about not letting fear or distractions get in the way of how you process the world," says Houlahan. 

Ordinary Eye is a record about witnessing without judgement. About grappling with life's challenges without being paralyzed by their weight. It’s Houlahan’s most accomplished work to date, the fully realized statement of a roots-music road warrior.

Pre-order the album and download the first single "What Is Our Love" here:

cover art by Dan Blakeslee


Daniel Johnston, 1961-2019 

(Photo: At the Daniel Johnston mural in Austin, TX on September 29, 2019.)


This past September 11th, Daniel Johnston passed away at the age of 58 at his home in Waller, Texas. He spent a lifetime creating music and art that was entirely his own. In a world clamoring for authenticity, Daniel's work is a glimmering beacon of refuge and beautiful release. He's had a powerful influence on me as a songwriter, and I'd like to try and explain why.

As shown in the 2006 documentary film, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Daniel struggled for most of his adult life with various forms of mental illness. Sometimes in our culture, we tend to romanticize suffering and illness when it comes to the artist. No-one provides more of a reality check on that myth than Daniel Johnston. He created, he sang, he made his art...despite his illness. And you can hear that struggle in his music. He lets you into his world, fully and unconditionally. With a raw honesty, a heartfelt need for connection.

Encountering his homemade tape albums is like stepping into someone's private universe. Boundless imagination. One great song after another, often sung in a fragile, earnest voice. Banging away on a cheap guitar or an old chord organ. Songs about unrequited love for his real-life muse Laurie. Or about the loneliness and alienation he feels as someone trying to make art in an ugly world. The ghosts and demons in his head. Songs about growing old. Dreams of fame, dreams of acceptance. There's a kind of child-like intimacy combined with a timeless wisdom in his lyrics. It's undeniable. I've never heard anything like it.

His songs have been covered by artists such as Beck, Lana Del Rey, Wilco, and Tom Waits. Kurt Cobain famously wore a t-shirt featuring his art. Despite his brushes with fame, he seems to have never really risen to a level of wider acceptance. But maybe that's how it should be. Maybe his work remains as a kind of buried treasure, lurking there just beneath the surface. For those who need it. For the rest of us with our own broken dreams, trying to make a path out of our own sorrow and heartache. Trying to find beauty in the chaos and noise of this brief, humbling life. Those of us who want to choose music over darkness, every chance we get.

Thank you, Daniel. You will be missed.





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