Kathryn’s Review of Memories of a Beautiful Disaster

Hi everyone,

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!


Kathryn’s Review of the Baltimore Show

Hi everyone!

I am so glad that I was able to attend the concert to experience the fire of James live! As a performer, producer, director, adjudicator and observer of music for so many years I do have a wealth of experience to draw from when critiquing these performances. Here goes…

Overall the performances were good. The sets were simple, the color combinations interesting and a bit funky and the costumes were adequate. The girls spent most of the night in sequined dresses and heels. The guys were more varied in suits, casual wear and rock attire. The band was very good and never missed a beat! But the sound mix and volume were much too loud and overwhelming for most of the singers. That did not have to happen. The producers have control on the board and I am disappointed that they allowed the background instrumentals to overshadow the singers.

James was the only one that could be heard consistently above the fray. When the girls sang back up they could not be heard. I deal with this all the time with my opera orchestras. The conductor has to remind them continually that they are the background music when the singers are performing. In opera the sound is not miked in the way that the AI performances are. What you hear is what you get, and therefore cannot be controlled at a sound board. In my opinion there is no excuse for such imbalance of sound in the Idol situation! I realize that in these cavernous arenas the sound production is always a challenge because without mikes the sound drops off right in front of the singer, but better balance is certainly possible!

Lauren was sick and did not perform. It would have been in the audience’s best interest for AI to have made contingency plans ahead of times for such occurrences and rehearsed additional songs for James and others to perform in such cases! They did not and the concert was 5 spots shorter. Disappointing!! It appears that everyone was in quite a hurry to get to NYC for GMA and the focus was on the GMA performance not this one. Not filling in Lauren’s spots kept the show much shorter and got them on their way more quickly. Too bad for those of us who shelled out our $ for a full show!

The audience was enthusiastic and engaged the entire time, but as you will see only a very few really excited them!

The girls opened the show with Born This Way and it was their best group song of the night. It was one of the few times that they could actually all be heard. They all looked beautiful and were very strong vocally. The arrangement allowed them each to be featured significantly. Most of the audience sat!

“The Pia show” continued with Empire State of Mind. Her voice was powerful. She looked lovely, but her performance skills are very elementary and the audience was underwhelmed. Most sat!

Then it was – wait for it – Pia and Stefano with California King Bed. The sound mix went haywire for this song and there was a lot of feedback and sound distortion. What I could hear was good – they have a nice balance together, but they had very little fire for each other or the audience. The audience sat!

Paul appeared next to sing Maggie May. He is so comfortable on stage and knows how to get the audience involved. He actually acknowledged the audience – what a concept – and got a lot of the audience on their feet for the first time. His vocals were vintage Paul and his movements quirky and a lot of fun!

Thia sang next – Who Says. She gives a very soft, vulnerable appearance. She looked lovely and sang well, but her movement was not terribly inspired. Her sound is a lot like Pia’s – just not as powerful! The audience sat!

The girls performed Tightrope next. This was not a favorite of mine. Again they looked lovely and the harmonies that I could hear were very good and their solos sections somewhat stronger. Just not very interesting IMO. The audience sat.

Stefano appeared next to sing Grenade. He received a really good reception. His vocals were terrific and he looked great in black and white. He seemed to connect fairly well with the audience.

Stefano joined all of the girls next to sing DJ Got Us Falling In Love. Stefano really got the crowd wound up and many stood. But the vocals were completely overwhelmed. Maddening!

All of the men (except Scotty) sang Animal next. James was first to appear to thunderous applause. The audience screamed and leaped to their feet in one spontaneous movement. It was so good to see! Wow! The arrangement was good and the vocals strong periodically. Most of the time the voices were overshadowed by the background instrumentals. Only James and occasionally Jacob could be heard consistently above the fray!

Naima was next to sing On the Floor. She was fantastic. Her vocals were strong and her African dancing was phenomenal. She is a marvelous performer when her dancing is incorporated. She has a very unique niche to fill! The audience went crazy for her dancing. She had many of them on their feet by the end of her song! Terrific!!

Pia is back next to sing her new single – This Time. Her vocals were very good. The song is not a favorite for me. The melody is uninspiring and at times monotonous. Her movement so limited and she does not reach out to the audience to engage them. The audience is not terribly responsive and sits. The clapping is tepid at the finish.

Firework is not sung as Lauren is sick. No announcement is made that she is sick until intermission.

Casey sings Smooth next. The crowd receives him enthusiastically and some stand. He plays the bass masterfully and his vocals are very creative – great scat! He plays very well to the audience and they are very appreciative. A lot of fun!! Some stand!

Haley joins Casey next for Moanin. A lot of distortion in the sound of this duet! It is a shame because Haley and Casey are an evenly matched pair vocally. Their scatting was very good and the ending terrific! Many stand by the end.

Next Casey sings Harder to Breathe. He is at ease once again, but very difficult to hear until the very end. His movement is very creative. And the background visuals are very effective – a kaleidoscope of white smoke signals. The audience is up and down.

Everyone (except Scotty) comes out to end the first half and sings Forget You. The bright pink outfits are a bit much on the men. But the arrangement is good and so are the vocals. Everyone but James is featured several times vocally and moves back and forth to center stage. He sings only once and stays stage left. I will address this later.

Intermission – An announcement is made that Lauren is ill. I speak to a lot of people at intermission. This is strong country music “country” in MD and PA and there are a lot of Scotty and Lauren fans attending. But everyone I spoke to loved James and wanted him at least in the final and a most thought he would win. Many complained about the push for Pia and felt she was like ice. When I asked who was on fire without hesitation it was James. All were hoping James would sing extra numbers in the 2nd half to replace Lauren’s – as everyone else, except James, Paul and Scotty, were heavily featured in the first half! It did not happen and there was a lot of grumbling after the show that it did not happen and that Pia dominated the stage.

Lauren’ 2 solos are gone as is the girls’ quartet, If I Die Young.

The lights go down for the second half and suddenly the guitar begins the music for Sweet Child o’ Mine. Everyone leaps to their feet spontaneously once again screaming and shouting for James. Many are on their chairs straining to get a glimpse of him and taking pictures. I am surprised that anyone got a video of James. They were very strict about not letting us record! He is everything that any of us have imagined. His entrance gave me chills! The energy from the crowd was so uplifting and the volume was ear splitting – and it never let up! James is the only one, including Scotty, who maintained this level of audience participation and energy level the entire time he was on stage. It has to be experienced to be believed. He was never still. His vocals were strong and matched the band’s sound note for note. His movement was mesmerizing! And he connects emotionally to the audience in a way the others cannot. He is so gifted, I cannot express this enough!

Next James sang Uprising. I was most interested in hearing this for pitch reasons. The tube videos of this have shown pitch discrepancies all tour long and pitch is one of James’ strengths. The audience continued its fevered pitch and he was magnificent. He put so much energy into this piece and his pitch was just PERFECT (when I returned home I found a video of Uprising on the Tube from Baltimore and again those pitch discrepancies appear on the recorded version even tough he was pitch perfect live). The mystery was solved for me – the sound distortion continues to be a problem in the piece as it records! As I have said many times, Uprising is very operatic in nature and is the most difficult piece anyone sings on the tour. (James has stated that he did not choose to sing the 2 songs he was given. He would had chosen differently had he been given the chance. He would never have chosen to sing “Uprising” 45 times voluntarily. And when he was so sick he should have been allowed to sing something else much less taxing). Both performances this night just confirmed everything I have thought about James’ capabilities. Experiencing him live just adds an extra dimension to an already outstanding, “one of a kind” performer.

Next dear Jacob comes out to sing Never Too Much. Well, apparently James’ performances are too much for Jacob’s performances. The audience disengages as soon as James leaves the stage. Jacob has very strong vocals and his movement on stage has greatly improved; but Jacob just cannot get them back! James has “left the building” and the audience has left with him and tunes Jacob out for the most part. I felt for Jacob. But it certainly emphasizes James’ power over an audience.

The girls join Jacob for You’re All I Need To Get By. The audience is still disengaged. Jacob has strong vocals and lots of energy, but the girls cannot be heard AT ALL. Bummer!

It’s Haley’s turn to sing House of the Rising Sun. Her vocals that I could hear were outstanding and the audience began to engage once again by the end. But her stage movement was very limited on this piece, and her vocals were very overshadowed.

Bennie and the Jets was Haley’s best vocal and best performance. Her movement was fairly creative and she got the crowd back on its feet by the end! Great job!

There was a big build up to Scotty and this country crowd was on its feet shouting and cheering until he finally appeared and the volume went through the roof, just as it had for James. He sang Your Man first. The crowd remained fairly engaged, but Scotty has very elementary performance skills and had trouble keeping them on their feet for his entire set the way that James did.

Next Scotty sang Are You Going to Kiss Me Or Not. This song is a better crowd pleaser. Scotty’s vocals are strong. He plays the guitar and most of the crowd is back up.

Scotty loses the audience with his single, I Love You This Big. Most of them sit. IMO the melody is monotonous and very uninteresting. The crowd apparently agrees, because they were not terribly engaged.

Lauren’s duet with Scotty is out and so the next song Scotty sings is Gone. This is Scotty’s best performance and the audience is the most engaged with him for it! A lot of energy for this final solo.

The show ends with a medley. I only saw James sing Here I Go Again alone as I was hurrying out the to find a place to meet James. Please watch this video

and especially look for the expression on the faces of the band members as James descends the stairs to the floor and really opens it up vocally. Their reaction to him says it all. It says this young man is just the best! He never ceases to amaze. This is a short but amazing vocal from James and his energy and use of the stage for even this brief moment is totally engaging. Audiences will flock to his performances for years to come.

Finally, I have to say that I was very glad that I went to experience all the singers but most especially James. He is a phenomenon. A very rare organic and naturally gifted performer who excels in all 3 areas: vocal technique, emotional interpretation and impact, and creative performance skills. This is why for the life of me I cannot understand why Idol so under used him in this production. They did and it is deliberate. It was very obvious to all attending. For his position in the final standings he has the fewest solos, duets, and absolutely no outstanding exposure in the group numbers. There is absolutely no excuse for it unless there was a falling out with someone who wanted to put James in his place. Well, they have only made James stronger in the eyes of his fans and audience members and made themselves look smaller. Shame on them for deliberately trying to silence such talent. It is small and childish. Perhaps James is a challenge at times to deal with. I don’t know. But if every performer who ever had a difficult moment was cast aside the stage would be a mighty empty place. I just want to shout from the mountain top to all who will hear:

James is such a blessing to the world of music and performance and such a wonderful example to all who struggle to rise above and for all of us who strive to be the best that we can be. Let his light shine and his voice soar! We will all be the better for it!

\,,/ Kathryn McCarney \,,/

Anouncement: Questions For Kathryn


Within the next week or so I will be doing an exclusive interview with Kathryn McCarney, DurbNet’s resident vocal expert. Topics for the interview will include:

  • James’ voice and range
  • His pre idol performances
  • Those comparisons to Adam Lambert
  • The “James can’t sing on pitch” nonsense
  • And more

Kathryn has stated in her profile that she is willing to answer any questions about James from the public.

So Durbinators here’s your chance to ask Kathryn about anything “James Durbin”.

Post your questions in the comments below!

Alexia (Durbinator #380)