Even in his early days, Brendan James has always seemed to embellish the old, rustic sound of someone much his senior. After the singer-songwriter debuted on the scene with his first album, “The Day is Brave,” back in 2008, followed by another self-titled release, his mellow, thought-provoking songs have only further secured what Entertainment Weekly claimed him to be at the time: “a songwriter on the rise.”
His newest album, “Hope in Transition,” opens up just where this success of the last album left off. “Carriers of the Light,” is an upbeat, carefree track, and as expected, is driven by the piano and strong vocal melodies that carry the album in its entirety. By the time the first chorus hits, it’s clear that James does not plan to disappoint. It’s the sort of song that’s impossible not to snap, tap, or sing along to, and it doesn’t hurt that James’ falsetto is just as impressive as the catchy whistling throughout.
Although the base of James’ success seems to be on his softer, melodic songs, (at least, from the amount of crowd videos and fan reactions scattered on the internet, that’s what I’ve gathered) I’ll say that I’m a bigger fan of those with a steadier beat.
Songs like “Charleston” or “Here for You,” have a tendency to blend together on this album, a downfall of placement on the track listing, or perhaps just the similar instrumental/vocal pairings. While I give credit to James’ for his honest, heartfelt lyrics in both, and his obvious gift for such an intimate line-up, I think a majority of the standout tracks are the ones where his voice and ear for an endearing melody are showcased.
“Nightlife,” for example, is probably the best track off the album, and for a number of reasons. Not only does he continue his piano and acoustic route throughout the song, but there’s an obvious incorporation of more drums, and what may or may not be a heavy beat of computer-synchronized sounds. Frankly, I love the feel of this song. It stays true to what James’ clearly intends to give his audience, and those moments where it’s stripped down to just his voice and the soft, instrumental melody are just as good, but there’s an obvious indication of direction, and I’d love to see more of it in the future.
Whether it’s the solemn, sentimental lyrics of “None Of Are You,” the growing melody, or just James’ familiar tone of voice, there are several points throughout the track that resonate similar to California-natives, Augustana. However, the same could be said about several aspects of the entire album. The strong piano and the overall mellow feel of the album is only further proof of just how musically inclined James really is.
The final two tracks, “World on the Streets,” and “Younger Days,” both keep the soft, easygoing tone that James is apparently known for. Partial to “World,” I would have loved to see the track-listing close with that one in particular. With an array of backing vocals and a chorus-sounding solo, it would have made an excellent, final showcase of everything this album is.
While some may have lacked in originality, there were certainly a few that stuck out amongst the rest. There’s no doubt that Brendan James is a true talent, and on numerous accounts throughout this album, it’s obvious that all he needs is a piano, a melody, and his soul-driven vocal talents to prove it.