Rex James
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Rex James

Band Americana Acoustic


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"Dreaming in Analog"

Dreaming in analog
Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 11:13:24 pm PDT
Coeur d'Alene Press Staff writer
Dave Powell, left, Anthony J. Powell, and Avery Anderson of the acoustic group Rex James use their own handcrafted instruments and records on analog technology for their music.

Rejecting the stereotypical (and expensive) path to rock stardom, acoustic group Rex James are content with taking it one plank of wood at a time.

Performing together for years, Dave Rex Powell wanted to explore a more complete acoustic sound. He was especially interested in the harp guitar, a string instrument that had been gaining popularity on the folk music scene. There was just one problem:

"You never find a harp guitar for less than a thousand dollars," he said.

Luckily his brother, Anthony J. Powell, had some experience building his own guitars and mandolins. Dave was eager to see if his brother could construct the unusual hybrid by hand.

"The materials are somewhere around $160-200, so it's significantly cheaper," Anthony said. "I've been fortunate to have people hear of my endeavors and they stop by with planks of wood."

The harp guitar is pretty much what it sounds like. Suspended above six ordinary guitar strings are a number of harp strings.

"It actually goes lower than a lot of harps," Dave said. "It basically gives the guitar the range of the piano."

With Anthony on mandolin and Dave on 12-string and harp guitar, the brothers next wanted to flesh out a new band.

"We really wanted to focus on our own material. In the past we've done a lot of covers," Dave said.

Enter Avery Anderson, an old friend who had just returned to North Idaho after a five-year stint in Nashville.

"I had 700 to 800 bucks and everything I owned in my car," Anderson said of his time in Nashville. "We played as many gigs as we could for it seemed like as little pay as possible."

Tired of performing other people's music, Anderson also started writing his own music.

"I just got a whole lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from that. Most everything's been said when it comes to writing songs, but there's always a new way to say something," Anderson said.

He also stumbled upon a studio in Nashville that was still recording music the old-fashioned way -- meaning no digital cleanup or computer editing.

"It sort of opened my eyes to the authenticity and the real factor of analog recording," Anderson said.

It was drastically different than what he saw at most modern recording studios.

"(The big studios) have people come in at the end of the day, and they just grid the drums out and tune the vocals. They turn this whole thing that was this human endeavor and turn it into a turd, or whatever you want to call it."

So Anderson returned to Idaho, new songs and attitudes in tow. Reconnected with Dave and Anthony, the musicians began searching for analog recording equipment on eBay and Craigslist. They are currently using reel-to-reel analog tapes with a computer editing program.

"You can record in the computer and take it off and put it on the tape, then put it back in the computer. It's really going to warm things up," Dave said. "You get the best of both worlds. Digital tends to be more bright, higher treble. The tape rolls that brightness and cuts those high frequencies."

To cap the new sound, the group recruited local drummer Bobby White.

"He's a percussionist that's not afraid to play with brushes," Dave said. "He's not loud or too much in your face."

Officially a band for only three months, Rex James is busy recording original songs and playing in and around Sandpoint and Coeur d'Alene.

"We haven't been together very long but the songs keep coming out," Anthony said. "As we get more and more experience, we're getting really good sounds right off the bat."

Anderson said his time in Nashville has helped boost his technical chops.

"It's worth going because it's like honky-tonk boot camp," he said. "There's a certain way you're expected to do things. You might think you can play guitar, then you go to Nashville and you realize that you can't really play guitar."

As for the new music, the band thinks their recording process will become more and more popular with other acts.

"The more make believe things get, the more people generally want to hear something genuine, that's not pixelized," Dave said. "There's going to be a sway. People are going to realize there's more to life than just eye candy."

Rex James performs at 6 p.m. today at Daanen's Deli in Hayden. They perform at 7 p.m. May 29 at O'Shay's Irish Pub in Coeur d'Alene. For more information on the band, visit - CDA Press, Coeur d'Alene, ID


"Out of the Wood Work"
"Silver, Wood and Steel"



You may have seen Rex James as the brotherly duo in recent past, or perhaps as the original trio back in 2001-2002 performing acoustically in their home town of Sandpoint, Idaho. Somewhere along the train of time in this new century the band has finally regrouped to include their three founding members plus a new percussionist as the fourth. If you haven't heard them in the past, then you don't know what you've missed as these boys will probably transcend from a local band to a regional act in the not too distant future. Make sure not to miss any of their upcoming performances for a true original acoustic treat.

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