With the kind of voice Galen James wields, it would have been easy for him to join the radio candy pop bandwagon. Coupled with his looks, his vocal abilities would have quickly drawn him an audience especially among the fairer sex. But that’s not where James’ soul was; shunning mainstream appeal, he has chosen to follow his heart. And his heart leans towards an edgier, jazz-inflected version of pop that borrows from a wealth of other genres. Listening to his recordings you will hear a bit of blues, a dash of gospel, splash of reggae, some rock riffs, and even some Middle Eastern embellishments. This makes for a hugely engaging listen that will appeal to music lovers across age groups and socio-cultural backgrounds.
Sifting through the musical background of this Michigan-born singer/songwriter/producer, its easy to see why he chose the path he did. Soon after his gift manifested itself in high school, his mum continually encouraged James to polish his singing. More importantly, he found a mentor in his school’s award-winning choir director, Richard Ingram. From there he was enrolled to the prestigious music and jazz program at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Besides receiving vocal, piano and guitar training, he got the chance to sing in the renowned vocal jazz ensemble Gold Company. He further got to hone his tenor in the company of such big names as Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea.
The accolades were not long in coming; in 2009, the year he released his first recording with the Compendium band ‘How To Find You’, he received five awards from Downbeat Magazine. Since then James has released two albums, the first of which was ‘Love & Bad News’, unveiled August 1, 2014. This was his first solo album and it is from that recording that the songs from his latest album, again backed by Compendium, were drawn.
‘Big Blue Mixtape’ is essentially a live re-recording of the Love & Bad News cuts produced by himself and Van Morrison guitarist Doug Messenger. To make life for themselves a bit more difficult, and to enhance your listening pleasure, Galen and Messenger chose to record the album in live, full takes. Just to show you how serious they are about the authenticity of their work, Galen kept the entire recording process analog. Nowhere was a single computer used. After a rigorous weekend of rehearsals with the band, all nine songs were played and recorded in full takes completely analog to two-inch Scotch tape. The result is raw art like you would get it in a Galen concert.
You can actually taste every guitar strum, drum kick and every plonk on the keyboard as ‘Stars’ unfurls itself. And you appreciate every perfectly hit note that Galen executes twice as much when you know that he had only one chance to get it right. On ‘Yes’ he sings so cleanly its unreal, and as he goes through his range from mid-range tenor to falsetto, you’re almost convinced you’re listening to Miguel. ‘Night Music’ is a gorgeous feel-good tune which is made all the more precious by the juicy horn sections that break in to particularly awesome effect on the hook. If you can’t stand music without electronic tweaking, you can skip to the 17th track of the album. ‘Take You There’ is not unlike the synth-driven, autotuned mainstream pop that dominates the radio waves today. There’s something for everyone in this eclectic set of songs.
Miami Based, Internationally Known