So glad to be writing again on behalf of our fabulous James. I have been in rehearsals and touring with performances of Verdi’s La Traviata for 3 months. I am happy now to take a break for the holidays and spend time with family and friends. No opera until mid January when we begin production of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana. Can’t think of a better way to start this break than a review of James’ new album.
I’ve taken some time with this review by listening multiple times to each song. There is so much more than “meets the eye” with each initial listening. First, in general I would like to say how happy I am with the direction of the album. James is giving us exactly what he said he would – a variety of styles. And although I am sure his live performances will include an increased emotional and hard hitting performance level, he has given ALL of his fans something to cherish. This is not a manipulation that he had to concoct to try to elicit more fans, it IS WHO HE IS. He is a tunesmith. He has made it clear that he likes a great melodic line. He sings a variety of styles because HE CAN. His beautiful lyric tenor timbre, his tremendous melodic sensibility, his natural gorgeous vibrato along with his ability to wail to the heavens makes him unique. There are few others like him. No need fear that he is selling out to one style or the other, he will be true to them all – at times stressing some more than others. In the long run it keeps fans on their toes, never knowing what to expect. It will also keep James’ albums and concerts extremely interesting. So often singers or groups begin to sound the same on all of their songs. James’ fans need not worry about that. He is gifted with the ability to paint a variety of sounds, styles and manners of delivery. Even James will surprise himself as he continues to explore and mature vocally.
He is dedicated first and foremost to the throw back sound of hard rock and metal – period. The gauntlet has been passed to him to open the doors to this music again for new generations not familiar at all with his music. Those of us who love these styles must be patient for he must do this gradually. When my kids would come upon a seemingly unsurmountable obstacle I would place a picture of an elephant on their mirror. It would say: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This is the way James will approach his mission I am sure. He is the right person at the right time. “When opportunity and preparedness meet, great things can be accomplished”. There is another saying: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear!” James, the student, is definitely ready and he has been surrounded recently by the best teachers i.e. Steven Tyler, Rob Halford, Zakk Wylde, Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars to name just a few.
On this album I believe that James has a lot to tell us about himself, his life and those who have impacted him both positively and negatively. He needed to connect to songs and lyrics that could deliver the message loud and clear. He needed to spill it and spit it out. He has certainly done that. The disasters are identified and at the end of the album he is triumphant, shouting to all of us to Stand Up. Out of the ashes of despair has risen a triumphant soul, a beautiful soul, an extremely talented soul. We are blessed have a front row seat to see and hear this soul spread his wings, and soar in seemingly limitless ways.
The Standard Tracks:
Higher Than Heaven- 5 stars: This is a song of redemption, forgiveness, love and triumph. James sings of his self destructive demons and self loathing, but he also acknowledges God’s forgiveness. It is the acceptance of this forgiveness that begins the process of healing his heart and opening it to someone whom he can trust and whose love can take him “Higher Than Heaven”.
This is a signature song for James. It emanates from deep within his soul. It is a hard hitting rock/metal sound with an unrelenting driving bass and percussive beat and a very powerful verse/chorus structure. Dylan’s magnificent guitar riffs and James’ rasp and wail bring the song to a very triumphant conclusion.
All I Want- 4 stars: This song involves another driving verse and chorus structure. It is very easy to remember and will be a great song for audience participation on tour. James’ vocals are so strong and well balanced. I really like his effective use of the straight tone (no vibrato) and dynamic contrast to create the feeling of strength and conviction.
The band is definitely an equal partner in this song from the very beginning. Its powerful beat and gradual dynamic build up have you jumping from the start.
Love In Ruins- 5+ stars: This song has a striking Aerosmith/Beatles sound both vocally and instrumentally. James brings his best to these vocals. He shows tremendous melodic shaping and contrast – like a skilled potter at the wheel. I love his “Tyleresque/Durbinesque” twists, turns and wails. Can’t wait for a Steven Tyler/James Durbin collaboration/duet(s). Just an amazing song. Another hit in the making!
Right Behind You- 5 stars: This is another favorite of mine. I can understand why the army chose it for their troops to carry 24/7. What an honor for James.
This is another example of the effective development of a strong verse/chorus structure. The instrumentation is very creatively written to suggest a military anthem. The quick 32nd note flourishes in both the guitar and drums are indicative of celebratory, processional, funereal and battlefield military music. There are moments when the repetitive beating of the bass and snare drums indicate a marching unit.
The words are so significant. The military honor code demands that no one is to be left behind. The cohesive unit of men and women depend upon the honor of all to protect and defend the unit.
James’ vocal ability is very strong, very convincing, very confident and very clear. Another effective use of the straight tone to indicate strength.
Love Me Bad- 4 stars: James finally has a chance to spend some more time in his upper register with his rocker “rawk” and wail. The verse/chorus is very repetitive and easy to learn. I like the harmonic layered structure of his multiple voicing phrases as well. This song has a very simple approach. If Love in Ruins is Rocky Road then this song is Vanilla. James does a great job, however, and the video is exciting to watch! Good Job.
Deeper- 4+ stars: In the very beginning of this song it’s good to hear James sing in his lowest register. He does it well, and provides good contrast to his other 2 registers. There is some tremendous guitar work. The driving beat and James’ repetitive vocals in his upper register suggest desperation and anguish. The song comes to a frenetic end – suggestive of “going off the deep end”.
May- 5 stars: This is the one song I simply cannot stop playing. There are many others to love as well, but this one is beautiful beyond words. This song certainly showcases James’ ability to sing a beautiful melody and to shape its heartfelt emotion. I cannot imagine any beating heart that would not be touched by this melody and lyrics even if the balladic style were not “his/her cup of tea”. The lyrics are sad on one hand, showing that true love of a living being, totally embraced, brings with it the inevitable pain of loss- whether this is the love of a parent, sibling, spouse, lover, child, friend, or pet- relationships which involve dreams, expectations and feelings of fulfillment and security. On the other hand, it also reveals that with this fully embraced love, however painful its loss may becomes a thankfulness, a gratefulness for its very existence and a connection that can never be broken.
James said that it took 15 takes to record this song. I can only imagine the feelings of grief that singing this song brought to the surface for James regarding the loss of his Dad, his strong connection to his immediate family and his tremendous love for Heidi and Hunter. His ability to take appropriate risks and to love so deeply is just amazing!! Bravissimo!!!
Screaming- 4+ stars: James lets it all hang out in this song. He takes no prisoners. This is one massive therapeutic scream. One of the most endearing and unnerving things about James from day one has been his total openness to expressing his feelings verbally and physically.
This has a terrific hard rock/metal edge. He should dedicate this song and Outcast on tour to all those who have been bullied and to all those damaged souls who have bullied them!
Outcast- 5 stars: Just love this hard rock/metal sound. Mick Mars is fantastic as usual. He is the ultimate pro in his approach and dedication to the quality of his playing. That he asked to play on James’ initial album speaks volumes. So many established and successful singers in the rock/metal realms have tremendous respect and admiration for James’ talent and they are very vocal and supportive of his professional journey into these realms. It is difficult to understand those who so love these established pros but in the same breath so discredit and discount the pros’ support of James.
This is another anthem for all the outcasts in this world. James’ lyrics rail against them and his tremendous vocals wail against them. Great job!!
Everything Burns- 5 stars: This song is quintessential James. Lovely lyrical melody, strong emotional delivery, exquisite melodic shaping. James is the star in this song. He wears his heart on his sleeve. The instrumentals are very effective too, but definitely in a supporting role. Outstanding.
Stand Up- 5 stars: There could not be a better stadium song for the NFL than this one. A brilliant move on the part of Wind-up to partner James with the NFL and the Armed Services. Two demographics that definitely love rock! It reminds me of the arrangement that James performed of Heavy Metal to some degree: very strong delivery with some effective guitar riffs with a gradual building and ascending into the upper register just as he did so beautifully in Heavy Metal. There is enough repetition in this verse/chorus structure to make it easy for the fans to learn it easily and respond very quickly by joining in on the chorus!! Very well done.
The Bonus Tracks:
Liberate- 5 stars: This is definitely a terrific throwback to the old metal/hard rock sound of Zepplin/Ozzie/Dio especially in the driving percussion and fantastic guitar riffs. This is in some ways a really good anthem/stadium song. I can picture the huge crowd of fans jumping and shouting to this hard driving song!! James weaves beautifully in and out of the melody line and is more than an equal partner with the raucous instrumentals. Terrific!
Back For More- 5 stars +++++++++: My, oh my, how I love this song!! Can’t stop listening to it. The use of the Dorian mode in the beginning conjures up Russell Crowe and the Gladiator, shades of the bazaars in North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Love the shifts between the Dorian/Minor and Major modes. It takes you back and forth between 2 different worlds! His vocals are so strong and just fabulous singing in all registers. Love to hear him contrast his vocal wails/riffs against the driving and exotic instrumentals. WOW!! Yuuuummy!!
Crawling Home- 5 stars: This is a terrific and masterful rock ballad. I really like the creative structure of this ballad: the solo vocal and acoustic guitar beginning and its gradual crescendo into full band instrumentation and then the solo vocal and acoustic guitar ending – pure genius. It has everything. It certainly showcases James’ beautiful lyric tenor voice, sensitive and tender shaping of the melody line and emotional content, vocal and instrumental riffs and wails and lovely contrast of the solo/full vocal and instrumental form. There is a little Aerosmith/Bon Jovi feel at times!! Greeeeeeat job!!
Just want to say how proud I am of James for staying true to himself and his diverse abilities to sing a variety of styles. This is a masterful and brave first foray into the professional world of rock/metal. Somewhat auto biographical, it gives us insight into his past and great hope for his future. As fans we will be right behind James. We will be there for him and we will never let him fall!