SOUTH BELOIT - James Carratt set out on a journey to capture the sound of the Stateline Area nearly two years ago.
Since then the South Beloit songwriter and musician has worked with nearly 50 different musicians of varying backgrounds for a country-focused record. Earlier this fall, the "James Carratt Project Volume One" album was released on multiple platforms ahead of a vinyl release, with both singles from the record getting airplay around the world.
The expansive country album was born in part out of Carratt realizing time was up for trotting the globe with a band, and also because of his love for song writing and producing to create powerful tracks. The record spans outlaw country, blending rockabilly and folk, while including new effects and instrumentation to appeal to today's generation.
The 12 track album features content about love and loss, but there's no specific theme or sound type carrying the record, with each song standing alone as unique pieces with introspective lyrics.
Being able to collaborate with so many artists from the Stateline Area and beyond let Carratt create something unique. The album was mixed and mastered at TVR Studios in Rockford and released independently.
"Word of the project spread and I started thinking of getting people more involved," Carratt said. "The tough thing is you have so many people coming in with different influences."
The compilation album was a chance for Carratt to flex his directorial music might, something he hadn't been able to do during the years he spent with the Jamie Campbell Band and working on various projects.
"This was my chance to play a director's role," Carratt said.
Growing up in Beloit, Carratt graduated from Beloit Memorial High School and fell in love with playing guitar. He has always used music as an outlet.
"I find that I'm able to tell a story, but not only tell the story with the words through lyrics, I found I could tell the story of my pain and happiness, with the added dimension of music," Carratt said.
Carratt worked consistently with local musician Jamie Campbell, playing shows at high profile bars in Nashville and across the South and Midwest. Balancing work as an insurance adjuster and writer was a struggle, he added.
"Trying to tackle both has been a challenge," Carratt said.
The soft-spoken 50-year-old spoke fondly of being able to personalize the record while still getting so many artists to work together.
Carratt was able to include his son, James Carratt III, on "Pictures On My Page," one of the most popular songs on the album and the most contributed with 12 musicians. The song focuses on the casualness of being able to wipe clean memories of a relationship from social media platforms.
"Pictures on my page" was a testament to the collaborative process, with guitarist Thor Davis approaching Carratt with a completely different rhythm than originally planned.
"It was awesome to see," Carratt said. "It changed the feel of the song and it blew us all away."
Carratt went so far as heading to visit Tennessee last year to reach out to some Nashville country music scene heavy hitters, enlisting "Cowboy" Eddie Long of the Jamey Johnson Band for steel guitar tracks on "Whiskey Jar," "Back To You And Me," and "Fall in Love Again."
Long is most widely known for his producer's role on Johnson's Grammy-nominated and Academy of Country Music award winning track "In Color." Long has also contributed steel guitar tracks to three Kenny Chesney albums and 23 Hank Williams, Jr. albums.
"He is the ultimate professional," Carratt said of Long.
The first single of the project, "Fall In Love Again" featured acclaimed singer Christi Letsigner, who Carratt said helped boost crowd reviews of the album.
Carratt chose to take a populous route with the record, posting each track to Reverb Nation's "Crowd Review" page, and only finalizing tracks that earned a 7 out of 10 rating or better.
"We did that (for) every track we know that people (as a) whole would enjoy it, rather than having something completely (be a) miss," Carratt said. "I am in a situation where we had to make all of the artists proud to be on the record. By testing the songs, we were able to make decisions on which to cut or keep backed by hard data."
The album is still listed in the top 30 nationwide on Reverb Nation's Crowd Review page, going as high as the top spots for local and regional.
Coordinating all of the artists was a feat in and of itself, Carratt added, noting he worked five days a week during the album's recording while still handling his day job.
During this interview with Carratt, singer and songwriter Leanne Leonard, who contributed backing vocals to "Fall in Love Again" came by to get a copy of the CD to send to a friend in another state. During the brief interaction, Carratt's warmth and positivity came through showing a pride for the extreme collaborative effort.
"Jim's a fantastic guy to work with," Leonard said. "It's great what's been put together. It was a lot of fun. He's sharing his songs but he's letting everyone add to it with their own thing. It's what makes it all so special."
Work on Volume 2 is underway, with spillover recordings from the current record set to be used on the upcoming release.
The album is available on Apple Music, Spotify and at jamescarrattproject.com. Vinyl pressings will be available next year.