Britton James is the eponymous debut full-length from the Virginia based singer-songwriter. While the one-man-and-an-acoustic-guitar model is the basis, the album finds James playing with a back-up band, probing slightly off the beaten path by exploring some light ska and tipping his hat (or pre-frayed brim) in the direction of ‘90s pop.
While it's easy to dismiss the whole genre of sandal-clad guys crooning on summertime patios, James takes the opportunity in the studio to flesh out some of his songs, as well as vary his style up a little bit. The opener “You're Mistaken” rings with feel-good electric guitar strumming and vocal stylings in the vein of Third Eye Blind. The next track, however, eases things back a little bit with some ska upstrokes, swaying horns and singing about the sea.
James also reels it in a bit with a couple of songs on the back nine, hitting both the slow-ish, sad-ish acoustic guitar song you'd expect, as well as some more minimalist, introspective fare. “Ghosts” would be the former, with steady strumming and subdued triumph when the chorus does come in, but the track “Wait” finds James at his most restrained. Tied together with a simple guitar riff, the song is at its best when it's at its lowest impact: just whispered vocals and the riff—but the song, reminiscent of Incubus, alternates between a filled out chorus and a stripped down verse.
The final track “I'll Go Away for A While” may be the best on the album with call and response vocals/harmonies and a twanging electric guitar lead, both of which almost sound Wilco inspired. It's a bittersweet track that seems to capture the mixed energy of the songs before it and stands as a great way to close the effort out.
Britton James was recorded by Andre Dunbar at his home studio in Virginia, and mastered by Robert Vosgein of Capitol Records. The production quality is tiptop. I especially like their choice not to blast the vocals front and center, but rather just leave them at the top of the mix—and the careful mixing to keep the level consistent even when James varies his level of intensity or volume. The thoughtful mixing and production really propels this album towards being more than just another singer-songwriter trying to get his ideas down.
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