Multi-disciplinary, Chicago-based artist James N Murray comes to Dragon’s Eye Recordings with his first release since 2018, AN EMERALD NECKLACE. A story in sonic reflections, these ten tracks serve as an ode to the people and places that give us refuge amidst a propulsive feeling of loneliness, and the moments of ecstasy we stumble upon in the continual search for connection.
The record takes its name from a string of public parks that stretch throughout Boston, wrapping around the ponds and waterways that form the Muddy River. The parks in the Emerald Necklace—designed by landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, who is also responsible for New York City’s Central Park—vary from woodlands to formal gardens, shifting as you travel out from the city center. In the designs for both the Emerald Necklace and Central Park, Olmsted purposefully reserved certain sections of otherwise formal gardens to remain “natural.” These pseudo-nature spaces exist in contrast to the gardens and manicured lawns that surround them, and have served as queer gathering spaces for many generations.
Away from Boston’s city center, reeds grow thick along the riverbanks. During the spring and summer, new stalks appear with warmer temperatures and are trampled and laid down to create paths and small antechambers hidden from public view. Carved out of the reeds, these improvised architectural interventions fill largely with queer-identifying people (and occasionally, those who may betray their trust). Bodies linger and wait, pause and turn back. They stop and lean against trees and fences, shifting their weight from one foot to the other. The flash of a lighter, a cell phone screen, or the glowing end of a cigarette appears out of darkness, the community gardens acting as a buffer to the busy street nearby, filled with people late into the night.
In his own words, Murray offered some insight into the inspiration behind AN EMERALD NECKLACE and the story of the parks from which the record takes its name:
This area sits directly next to my undergraduate art school as well as several nightclubs I would visit during my time there. My choice was often Machine, a split-level venue that’s now demolished. You could get kicked out of the backroom upstairs for barely touching someone. It had a strange dance floor in the basement where men would scowl if you were too flamboyant, as pounding circuit-music reverberated strangely against the low ceilings. The park became the place where I would hang out before the night began and after it was over. I worked my way home through the city using the parks as my passageway.
This album contains a story about this place and this period in my life. It’s about the parks, the clubs and the people I spent my time with. It’s about friendship as much as it is about loneliness, the feeling that comes as the party fades away and the sun starts to rise. That span of time when it can sometimes feel overwhelming to be alone, but simultaneously exhilarating. That knife’s edge between ecstasy and despair. The park provided solace in its paths, both designed and improvised. Shortcuts through bushes. Hidden passages opening onto beautiful gardens.
Here’s to finding friends (again), wherever they might be.