Rather than plying us with the typical pop vocal that has become all too common among his scene and those attempting to penetrate it, Brandon James is intent on giving us something a little more intimate in his new EP Soul Sessions Live, and it all starts with his bassline harmony in “Everytime.” Although it would have been simple to influence the rhythm with his cadence, his verses ride the groove like an angelic entity atop a cloud, his vocal ascending towards the heavens rather casually rather than with any sort of force. His is a clandestine style of romantic songcraft, and it’s popping off in this extended play like few critics could have predicted it would.
The jazz influence in Soul Sessions Live is undeniable, especially in his rearrangement of “Yesterday” and the supple “This Aint Love,” but it never translates as coming from a place of arrogance. On the contrary, his style of delivery is one that invites us closer to the melody, as if to ask us to dance beneath a blanket of stars on an otherwise dark night. There’s no arguing the presence James has in these tracks, and it’s too organic to be deemed anything other than spellbinding.
Balance is one of the key themes in Soul Sessions Live, particularly in “Untitled” and “Everytime,” in which instrumentation is meant to weigh evenly with the vocal rather than captivating us with its surreal prowess exclusively. What really grabbed me here, at least from a compositional perspective, was the unnecessary attention to intricacy Brandon James pays even the bottom-end textures that support him in any given verse. He’s a natural at this medium, and if there were any critics unsure of making such a statement beforehand, they need to hear this record for themselves to understand just what a gem he is at this point in his career.
While studio recordings can bring forth some of the most creative aspects of an artist’s profile, playing live brings something different to the table, and I think James thrives off of the setting he’s presenting his material in here. He’s not reticent about digging into a hook; instead, he’s chasing after the fever pitch like it owes him rent money, and providing us with the sort of structure-bound backdrop that tethers his sound to that of the many greats in vocal pop and soul to have come before him.
There are no two ways about it – Soul Sessions Live is a marvelously stunning introduction to the music of Brandon James, and if you haven’t already given it a listen this autumn, I highly recommend you do as much before the holidays come to a conclusion. His voice is a warm as a blaze in the fireplace, and if cultivated with the mainstream in mind, I have a feeling he’s going to give us some of the more remarkable, vocal-driven content to come out of the underground in a long time. This is a fine start, and I’m eager to see what he’s going to come up with next.
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