Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Oliver James - Chasing the Sun

Some artists approach their art from a very free-form place, letting inspiration come from where it may and
grabbing ideas here and there. Their focus is on their art but how it comes together is left up to chance, so to speak. Others, such as rising artist, Oliver James, tackle their craft with a more thought out and concentrated focus.

“I want to write songs that touch people and come from a real place,” says James. And it’s this mentality that fuels the artist’s debut, Chasing the Sun.

Chasing the Sun is a collaboration between James and fellow collaborator, not to mention keyboardist and songwriter, Brett Levine. The two work together, offering their input, and liken the experience to a chess game. “I make a move on a song, go away, and come back to see what move he made,” Oliver shares. Their teamwork even extended to the production process, both artists sharing in the full development of the album, “uncompromising in quality and emotional intent” and working at “crafting a meticulous multi-dimensional album that keeps surprising after multiple listens.”

And by and large, they’ve done just that.

The duo opted to test the waters before the release of their record by offering up the song, “Keep Breathing,” early on. The track, colored by a beautiful instrumentation layered in piano and haunting strings, speaks of the dangers and horrors of war alongside the hope and love their loved one’s at home have for them. It’s slightly melodramatic in some senses but it apparently resonated with quite a few, garnering over 10, 000 radio spins and generating some early positive reviews online.

Those reviews are well warranted as evidenced by the rest of the record.

Album opener “Giving Chase to the Sun” is a lyrically strong tale of dealing with past decisions and the ramifications and consequences that come with the good and the bad set against an up-beat, acoustic driven soundscape before giving way to the more positive tones of “Running Back to You” with some Edge-esque guitar work at the intro that flows into pounding percussion and culminates in a great pop-rock power anthem.

“Pain” is a more subdued journey as the artist showcases some of the aspects that have drawn comparisons to artists such as David Bowie and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with heavy lyrics, tasteful strings, and some poignant piano tones. Album closer “Avenue of the Stars” is an almost country tune, complete with some mournful steel guitar in the background that comes accented with some banjo and more.

Yet, it’s near the center of this album that James really shows his stuff. “Lover’s Bridge” kicks off a great trifecta of tunes, rousing Motown horns blaring ahead of a fun-filled musical romp that features some soulful background vocals that give that certain amount of something extra. “At the Water’s Edge” follows and is entirely different, almost somber in it’s delivery of moody piano and layered vocals. James also employs a bit of sound effect, bringing in some sounds of waves crashing on the shore, which can oftentimes come across as just cheesy, but this time it works, providing that extra splash of texture the track needs.

But it’s on “Before He Turned the Gun on Himself” that the artist really hits his full stride. James’ lyrics are spot on, showcasing a great hook and plenty of insight, while the arrangement which features strings from a 15-piece orchestra and background vocals from David Letterman’s Late Night Gospel Choir. It’s a slow build but one that will inevitably find listeners singing along with the sad tale. This is definitely the highlight track of the album.

Chasing the Sun is an apt name for James’ first outing, offering up the idea of trying to accomplish a mission that is all but impossible. It’s a fitting metaphor for the music business at times, as artist after artist seeks after fame and fortune, only to be lost in the shuffle. And while the future is always hard to predict, if Oliver James keeps making music like he’s done here, he might just have a chance of doing that which so many have fallen by the wayside attempting, he just might catch the sun and become a star himself.

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