Brendan James – Brendan James – Decca Records B0014323-02, 44:35 ****:
(Brendan James – piano, vocals; Johnny Haro – drums; Warren Huart – bass;, guitars; David Levita – guitars; Tim Pierce – guitar, mandolin, marxophone; Victor Indrizzo – drums, percussion; Dan Rothchild – bass; Moog bass; Ben Wysocki – drums; David Walsh – guitar; Sean Hurley – bass; Zac Rae – keys; J. Clifford – string arrangement; Brent Price – violin; Megan Allison – violin; Simon Ertz – viola; Norbert Lewndowski – cello; Boots Ottestad – guitar, bass, keys, vocals; and others.)
Unlike most musicians, Brendan James did not start his musical journey as a child prodigy. During sophomore year at the University Of North Carolina, he began to play the piano and write songs. Carly Simon (to whom James sent a demo) became a mentor, enlisting his help in re-recording “Let The River Run” for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. This act of encouragement would serve as a catalyst. After paying his dues in New York and Los Angeles, he was signed to Decca Records. The debut release, “The Day Is Brave” gained James critical notice and commercial exposure. Songs from this album were featured on television shows, including Private Practice, Bones and One Tree Hill. He toured extensively for eighteen months, supporting the album, growing a fan base and preparing for the always challenging “second” effort.
Brendan James’ self-titled album marks the emergence of a singer/songwriter who has found his narrative character. A compilation of eleven original songs are transformed into personal reflections. Crisp, pop-based structures are elaborated by the emotional tenor of James, his distinctive piano technique and lyrical content. The opening track, “Nothing For Granted” moves effortlessly between the melodic piano chords and the uplifting message of life affirmation. Each song is meticulously produced by Warren Huart (Fray, Augustana, Howie Day), with the intention of showcasing James. The music is very polished and utilizes a variety of layered effects. “The Fall”, enhanced by string accompaniment, explores the tenuous sentiment of romantic separation. James shows off his vocal dexterity with some effective falsettos. Inhabiting a troubadour’s spirit, the voyage of self-discovery is chronicled in songs like “The Lucky Ones” and “Get It Right”. Quirky lyrics (…”I still remember thirty numbers after 3.14…”) bring a sense of humor to the incongruity of love in “Stupid For You”.
“Anything For You” (featuring drummer Ben Wysocki, and guitarist David Welsh of The Fray), and “Changing Us” introduce a slower tempo to the philosophical ruminations. Regardless of musical context, the spotlight remains on James. The natural, pure singing approach is cohesive with the discreet piano runs. At a brisk forty-five minutes, the album succeeds where so many pop records do not…it is very listenable.
TrackList: Nothing For Granted; The Fall; Anything For You; The Lucky Ones; Stupid For Your Love; Different Kind Of Love; Get It Right; Changing Us; Let It Rain; Your Beating Heart; Emerald Sky.
— Robbie Gerson