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About This Album (Liner Notes):

You know how it is when you’re going to have a campfire?  You call some friends and hope a few show up. You gather materials and hope they burn. You grab an old guitar and hope it doesn’t get stepped on. Put some Beam and beer in a cooler and hope it lasts.

Once things get rolling, the campfire dialogue is spirited and spontaneous.  Everyone participates, sharing their best stories, chiming in at the right times. The path of the campfire storyline is always unique, but each story builds from the previous one.  There is always that one guy who relates today’s fodder to how it was back in the day.

There is a constant connection to nature, especially the skies and stars above.  The animals whose voices carry from the dark distance – coyotes, wolves, loons, the occasional crickets and frogs – make cameos.  Later in the fire night, conversation slows and nature starts to dominate, as it should, in the quieter, sparse moments.  I literally cannot survive without those moments.

Campfire 1

This deliberate collection of tunes is my first campfire for you and the process of making this album mirrors a typical campfire journey.  It rocks and rolls like a spirited, spontaneous campfire dialogue while also delivering those reflective moments to help you connect to nature and its energies. It’s in lock-step harmony with the seasonal changes of the North Country.  The songs were recorded everywhere from ice fishing houses and cabins in Northern Minnesota, Parker’s home studio in Maine, Sacred Heart Studios in Duluth, MN, and Revelator Records in East Nashville, TN.  Best of all, some great Campfire Stars showed up at the fire to really bring these tunes to life.

Special thanks to God for delivering this music for me to share, my family for their support, the Campfire Stars who performed on the CD or joined me on stage, the sounds pros who captured and engineered the music, and the venues and radio stations who support live, original music.

Fire it Up!

As a squatchy tall musician who needs a lot of elbow room to thrive, Overgrown is arguably the most representative song of my existence.  While there are lots of things that are Overgrown, I picked on myself, big cities, human handling of the proliferation of technology, and hair.

I enjoyed collaborating with Tony Petersen for a special version of this tune paired with the music video by Paul Marvin Arts.  Basically, a dude with a song, a dude with a banjo, and a dude with a drone coming together to make art.

I hope you enjoy it and make it your own.

Mid-summer is arguably the best time of the year to be a Minnesotan.  Ripe with summer celebrations, festivals, and the first cut of hay rolled up nicely in area fields.  Its the time of year where we actually get visitors either returning home for a bit, or just stopping in to try and gain a better understanding of why we live here.

My epic summer evenings consist of pontoon swims once the lake quiets down a bit.  Each pontoon enjoying their private time, but also waving…all the time.  Little Minnesota lakes are littler communities inside of little communities.  Most everyone is very neighborly and always ready to help one another.

Yes, this time of year, at the end of the day, is Minnesota at its best.

This is Where You’ll Find Me.


My lingering memory of my mom’s mom, who passed when I was still in single digits, was a picture of a beautiful lady sitting on a faded white bar-height chair in a corner – with dozens of relatives conversed around her during a Christmas gathering. Somewhat alone but still in the picture…  She looked slightly buzzed, with a grin that could be categorized as a smile.  Catching her twinkling eyes a few times, I made a voiceless connection that has lasted for decades and even crystallized.

As a single-digit youngster, my thought at that time, and for many years after, was grandma was just “taking it all in” and her buzz was natural and pure.   It was like a turkey barn in my grandparents old farmhouse, full of emphatic chatter, and she was listening to all the conversations in one harmony.  It wasn’t until much later that I found that she had dementia.

Quite often through the years, I prayerfully pondered how she felt.  Was she disconnected and hopeless that she wasn’t “all in” on conversations, or was she of full heart and fulfilled that her house was bursting with family?  Most of the time I slant towards the positive, the latter.

But its one of those BIG questions that I’ve never had an answer for and only she really knew.  The vision of my grandma, and my lifelong pondering on how she felt at that time, was the impetus for this song, which I’ve penned for my mom, Joan.  She’s doing great at 81 by the way.

We all get a little older every day, and living longer lives, which gives us more time to ponder life’s BIG questions.  Longer survival on earth gives us more opportunities to share, listen, experience, and interact with other survivors.  It gives us more time to ponder whats next.  However, it also introduces the “yin to those yangs“, the creeping of disease, the increase of loss, the depredation of the physical and mental capabilities.  Aging is a beautiful thing though, and our seniors deserve as much enjoyment and respect as possible.  But as age advances, memory often declines, so make the most of what you have while you have it and appreciate the fact that you are still upside ground!

I’m releasing this song now, with June being Alzheimer’s and brain awareness month.  The Alzheimer’s Association has proclaimed purple to be the color that represents the Alzheimer’s movement and has spent the month boosting awareness.  Of course, being a Minnesota Vikings fan, purple is my favorite color.

On the summer solstice  (June 20th, 2016) millions were raised during The Longest Day, a team event that raises funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association. The duration of this sunrise-to-sunset event symbolizes the challenging journey of the nearly 50 million people worldwide, 5 million in the US, living with the disease and their caregivers.

ALZ Longest Day logo

If you or a loved one is starting to experience confused thinking and memory loss more often, or has factors that cannot be controlled such as age and a history of Alzheimer’s in your family tree,  there are some helpful resources here to help diagnosis the situation.  I encourage you to take action sooner rather than later to maximize the benefit of available treatments, which have come a long way since back in the day – thanks to the work of  ALZStars dedicated to helping!

And wear some purple, with or without the Vikings logo 🙂

This time of year is made for love, its the time of year I proposed to my lovely wife, and married her.  Its the time of year my parents got married 52 years ago.  Its the time of the year when birds, bees, and a lot of other animals are getting it on.  Here in the north country, its our first taste of warmth, new growth, rainbows, green grass and blue sky.

So this month’s song features a happy love song I wrote for my wife awhile back.  I think the lyrics pretty much tell the story and are easy to understand so I’m not going to post the lyrics like I have on previous songs of the month.  However, I’d like to point out that this tune contains one of my favorite musings in the 2nd verse that involve the Brothers Burn Mountain and a mystical fountain of youth.

This month’s format is a little different than previous songs of the month in that I wanted to have a more raw-feel recording. So the video you see was actually the recording that stands and that will be on Campfire Americana: Volume 1 when it is released later this year.

Its raw, its real, honest, and I hope you like it.  If you do, please help spread it around and share…and love each other!

Visions of Bob is a tribute song I wrote to Bob Dylan, inspired by dozens of songs from the man born here in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941.

Stream if here for free this month while you read about it below:

As you may know by now, I’m releasing a new song every month for Campfire Americana: Volume 1.  The singles will be available as they are released each month and the entire album will be released in December 2016.  Most of the work for each song is done during the given month, in concert with the times and the seasons, and it seemed fitting to get this tune out before Dylan’s 75th birthday. I wrote it after asking myself “what I would say if I had 5 minutes with Bob.”

But something profound happened during the making…

With all the banked memories of life, its amazing how you can remember exactly where you were, and what you were doing, when you heard the news of something very, very major.  Goosebump-level news, you know the kind. What were yours?

Aside from personal, family news, here are a few memorable events and settings of mine:

  • The Twins winning the 1991 World Series – Just left of the soundboard at a Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum.  My buddy Brad, as excited as humanly possible, spreading the news he just heard from the soundguy who was listening to the game with an earpiece while recording the show.
  • Jerry Garcia’s death – Driving all alone to St. Cloud, first song the radio played was He’s Gone and I had to pull over.
  • The 911 attacks – In my office in Duluth with co-workers watching it happen on a snowy TV screen.  FDNY was piloting our EMS software at the time and our company had a connection which made the sting hurt even more.

So what does this have to do with this Visions of Bob song? Enter another one of Minnesota’s spawn, Prince.

On April 21, 2016,  I was sitting in a parking garage downtown Duluth, on Lake and Superior. In my portable recording studio (which is essentially a truck with recording gear in it) I was capturing the harmonica track and background vocals for this song with my friend Brian James over lunch.  Midway through the recording, my phone buzzed – a single, 4 letter word message from my friend Paul …F#@&… I let it fester for a little while so I could focus on recording, but social media caught us.  In a short while, my friend Brian let me know that Prince had died.

So here I was, recording a tribute song for a man that Minnesota, especially Hibbing and Duluth, embraced as their own (Dylan), while another Minnesota musical icon goes to the afterworld (Prince).

Bob Dylan and Prince - Minnesota Murals

In stark contrast, Prince actually embraced Minnesota back, while Dylan pretty much left and never looked back.  However, both of them share common Minnesotan traits of being private, even in the midst of their incredible popularity, and I guess their music was bigger than where they ended up living.  They left behind truckloads of songs that will never go away. Between the two of them, they probably wrote enough tunes for the entire world to survive on.  That thought is captured in the last words of the song: “You wrote everything we need, you’re an artist, you don’t look back.”  A parody line from She Belongs to Me.

I wrote this tribute song to Dylan with the hopes that he would hear it someday, and he would bring it all back home…like many of us have done who were born in Minnesota, left to explore, and returned back to the nest.

If you study the works of Bob Dylan, you will enjoy the challenge of trying to identify which Dylan songs are referenced in this tribute song.  Some are obvious and some pretty obscure, for the deep divers.  I’ve listed the song inspirations after the lyrics which are posted HERE.

Or you can click below to buy the song 🙂

Buy Visions of Bob - CD Baby

Son: “Dad, these fish just don’t seem to be biting today.”

Father: “Well son, back in the day, we used to haul in our limit in just a couple hours.  But remember… a bad day of fishing beats a good day of work, don’t ya know.”

Grandpa: “Hey der’ , we used to catch ’em dis long [spreading his arms like an eagle], by the dozens…and all we used is cheese.  Right from da’ dock.  Yeah…back in the day…” (he says trailing off…)

Exchanges like this happen all the time. Whether it be about fishing, etiquette, the weather, girls, boys, or work ethic, I was hearing people use the “back in the day” phrase so often, it just had to be a song.

Back in the day is one of those phrases that defines a contrast between:
1.) something that is happening now, and
2.) a similar situation any point before today.

It could have been how things were 100 years ago, or yesterday, but back in the day carries a universal innuendo that whatever happened then was a “better different” than whatever is happening now.  References to back in the day were often made up of folklore, you’ve heard them:
…back in the day, we walked several miles to and from school in cold, biting snowstorms, uphill both ways.
…back in the day, folks were hard working, firm hand shaking, chivalrous, look you in the eye people.

There are also the real simplicities of living  back in the day, like being able to drink whiskey and stay up late or just eating the food grown in your own dirt.

I pondered this phrase for a few months while observing humans, hearing it again and again in conversation.  Then, I got into one of my songwriting areas of solace and white space (this time it was ice fishing).  Basically, I threw those few months of observations into representative lyrics, contrasting things that were happening now, with how they were (or maybe how we would like to think they were) back in the day. Maybe we reference the past in hopes of a better future?  Maybe the song setting takes place in the future?  This had to come into play in the song.

Well, the fish weren’t biting that day, so the song got written with the help of this old guitar.

Kraig's fish hole

While the songwriting is a very personal reflection of everyday living in the north country, I’m really enjoying the recording and arranging part of this Campfire Americana: Volume 1 project.  In recording Back in the Day, it was fitting that I had two musical compadres from earlier in my musical journey join in as “Campfire Stars”.

Parker Goessling adds some electricity with his guitar work, especially on the solo. While Parker is only around 20 he has played like a veteran since I first heard him back in the day when he was 9, forming a band called Resign with my son on drums and a few other friends.  Resign evolved into Breaking Glass, who recorded a great EP called Shatterproof at McNally Smith. Check it out here. Being the drummer’s dad, I was eager to setup a jam room in the basement of our house for the band to practice.  It was a blast helping as their manager and roadie for a few years, and they had great success around the Duluth area during their short stint.

Also featured in this recording is Brian James.  Back in the day, I was the bass player in an indie-rock band called Busy Signal down in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Brian was our lead singer.  He joined me in the Sacred Heart studio and you can hear his backing vocals on the chorus.

Since this tune was written on a slow day of ice fishing, I thought it would be appropriate to include some video footage of a recent gig I played at the Aerie Lake Crappie Challenge in early March.

So here is a video preview of the song of the month, Back in the Day.  If you like it, please share it with a friend, or just hold the door open a little longer for strangers.


Buy Back in the Day - CD Baby


The 2nd track from Campfire Americana: Volume 1 is now available.

Afterbloom is a quick-hittin’ north country tune inspired by a good friend’s journey.  My dad always talks about the phases of life.  I think that played into the realization that we initially bloom as teenagers, then later on down the road, we can bloom again. I suppose it hits each person at a different time, if at all, but it is noticeable. The Afterbloom.  Wiser, deeper, more radiant than the initial bloom.

The song came to me quickly, one of the few in which I didn’t change a thing from the initial capture.  I had just got a new old guitar in Arizona and sat down on a Saturday morning with some coffee.  I had contemplated the word for a few weeks, but was traveling and without a guitar so didn’t have a chance to explore the word musically. Just a visual premise:

“Rejuvenation, recovery, balance, restoration, and self-reflection all taking place in a one-room cabin in the middle of nowhere in Northern Minnesota, maybe on the Baptism River.”

Filming the intro video was one of those weird, precious moments of coincidence.  I was taking some winter video footage while exploring in the Ely area, and as me and my friend Cody were walking the streets, we stumbled upon this amazing flowershop called Bloomers. They had recently discarded their bloomed flower petals on the snowy sidewalk.  The setting captured the combination of beauty and lifecycle that I was looking for.  Older flower petals that may have served some of their purpose on the stem, but were laying there, beautiful as ever, with a renewed purpose….noticeable.

We’ll have the song available for free on the music page until the next Campfire Americana: Volume 1 track is released.  Afterbloom is also available on popular media outlets such as Spotify, iTunes, and CD Baby.

Hope you enjoy it!  Please share it if you do.

Buy Afterbloom - CD Baby


Copyright 2015 – Kraig James Music

When Jimmy came down from the mountain, His burlap was filled to the brim.
Some wood in his sack, yeah to heat up the shack, till the morning sun came in.

No visitors here, just the solace, and the pine-infused air to breath in.
It clears up his eyes, and he tries and he tries, not to give in…….to the gin.

It’s the Afterbloom, for him, shaken and stirred.
It’s the Afterboom, for him, balanced, and turned.

V3 :
And he said “Here goes everything, in the middle of nothing”.
In a little old shack with the voices, scared him straight again.

Tag final chorus with:
Balance, returned.

Buy Afterbloom - CD Baby

DULUTH, MN.  February 1, 2016

Kraig James & the Campfire Stars announces its first single off the Campfire Americana: Volume 1 project.  The “Priney” North Country tune “Teardrops and Elephants” is digitally available on all popular media outlets including CD Baby, Spotify, iTunes, and on

Kraig James & the Campfire Stars

I’m excited to try a new way to distribute music. Instead of traditional methods of releasing an album, I am going to release one new song a month for a year.  The Campfire Americana: Volume 1 project will allow me and the Campfire Stars to celebrate the launch of each song, and make sharing each song a little more intimate.

We’ve got some winter songs, some summer songs, and a Christmas song, so being able to share them in concert with the season just feels right. In fact, the vocals to this first tune were recorded completely off-grid in an ice fishing shanty.

This was kind of a new year’s resolution and then one of the recording guru’s I follow, Graham Cochrane, had a 1 song, 1 month challenge.  I thought taking a song from idea to being published in a month was a great idea, so I’m extending it to the whole year and calling the project Campfire Americana: Volume 1. Each month, I’ll have a new song posted to my website for free and will include the lyrics, as well as a video with some background on the song.

I look forward to December 2016 to see how this whole thing shapes up, but for now, lets celebrate the first single, Teardrops and Elephants.  Here is a little video preview, and it will be streaming for free on my music page until the next song is released.