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August must have been the month of vaguely folk-ish singer/songwriter music because it seemed as if every suggestion I received for the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll was in that genre or at least close enough to it that I would associate it with that label. That's not necessarily a bad thing as there were some great artists, some of whom have already been featured, but still, after a while it did get a little repetitive.
I'll admit that I might be a bit of a singer/songwriter snob as it seems to take a little bit more for artists of that genre to impress me than others (I have a few choice favorites, but I've heard thousands), and if I'm not in the right listening mood I won't even bother. Maybe that's why it took me a few days longer to check out this artists music than it would have otherwise. I'm glad I did though as, like I said, there were some great artists submitted this August, one of which is Darrin James of the Darrin James Band.
Hailing from Brooklyn NY, on first glance I thought Darrin James was just another of the singer/songwriters that I had heard so much of this month already, but take a deeper look because there is a lot more than that in his music. The first thing most people (well more rock and roll versed people) will notice in my mind is a vocal style that recalls Bob Dylan, but more on that later. Comparisons aside, the Darrin James Band still makes some grooving rock and roll, country flavor, and earthy blues with a soulful style.
I started with the Darrin James' Myspace page, as I do with most of these new artists in order to get a quick listen and see if anything stands out immediately. There are four songs listed, each with a unique style. "Thrones of Gold" is a country/bluegrass esque folk number that's catchy enough to earn some toe tapping and an earthy feel that just sounds so natural paired with James' vocals and lyrics. "Lucky Man" is also in the same vein, but instead of bluegrass it's more in the folk song, softer and subtler. It still captures the same earthy feel though, just in a different flavor. "Only A Woman" starts out as a slightly dark and minor tinged blues number with just a soft acoustic guitar but builds into a larger, grander chorus that kind of hangs in the air just a little hauntingly, before returning to the verse. James' gritty vocal style takes on a far more grizzled bluesy feel with just a touch of menacing growl at times on this song that really puts the emphasis on the darker atmosphere. This song also features a subtle, but great little guitar lead... kudos to whoever played that lick. "Had Enough of Me" is a little different but still has some of the same bluesy feel. It's laced through a bit of slow, tinkly, slightly jazz piano and a soul beat that swaggers and sways accented by great a great rough edged saxophone lead.
These last two songs really made me want to see what else the band would have in store on the rest of the album and from what I've heard, it appears that surprises continue.
I haven't yet gotten to listen to the entire album, just clips, but it sounds like this band has some real depth. "Trivial" sounds the closest to "rock and roll" with an upbeat, more rockin' style. "Duct Tape" also sounds like more of a rocker, but with a slightly twisting opening riff, more of a blues jam feel and a soulful vocal performance. "Faith on the Run" is also bluesy but has a great, more pushed chorus. "Hate the World" sounds a bit like a rough edged bluesy ballad while "Dusty Road" is more folksy, but settles into more of a country feel. "Communion" also fits in with the folksy/country feel, but again in a different, darker way, and "In the End" is more of a slow burning blues.
And then there's "Herie" and "Crazy World", both of which totally blew me away (and that was just from the clips). "Herie" seems like folk song with it's opening acoustic guitar, but the rolling drums and bass add such emphasis and darkness to the sound that it takes on a whole new character... subtle, but so powerful with tons of color. Out of everything I heard, "Herie" struck me the most as just great songwriting and style. On "Crazy World" the band channels more of a delta blues, but with a jazzy swaggering bass line, with such grit and soul that it ends up really dark and smoky... also great.
Throughout all this music there are also a couple of other things that really impressed me and sparked my interest. The first is Darrin James' vocal style. Like I mentioned previously, on first listen I immediate identified it with Bob Dylan. James' sounds grizzles, throaty, bluesy and authentic, like Dylan, but a little darker, even recalling the gruff growl of Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top on occasion. He's got that great soulful voice that is made to sing the blues and really adds the finishing touches to these songs. Not everyone could set the mood so well, vocally it's just the perfect fit.
Secondly, lyrically these songs are quite engaging. They're real, soulful and have subtle moments of word play without ever sounding stereotypical, melodramatic or over the top. Combined with the music and sung in James' voice makes for something that sounds completely honest, natural and authentic. It's a sound that the band a a whole really feels comfortable with, like all the pieces just fell into place.
Thirdly, as a guitarist I've got to say that there's some great subtle, bluesy guitar licks throughout these songs. They seem to howl when necessary but never step out of the feel of the song, really adding emphasis without distracting from the vocals or lyrics. Oh, and that saxophone lead on "Had Enough of Me"... top notch as well.
And finally, I've got to tip my hat to the production and arrangements. These songs sound earthy and rough, but not necessarily rough to the point where you notice it immediately. I didn't feel like it was overly polished, digital or over produced to the point of annoyance... and I like that. There's also a subtlety to the arrangements on some of these songs that really works, putting emphasis where necessary without beating you over the head with it... and I like that as well.
Overall I got to say, the Darrin James Band was quite a pleasant surprise to what I was expecting and they've really got my attention. Maybe at times they get a little too close to Dylan (if you really want to find something to complain about), but it's never a rehash and is musically full of surprises. I'm definitely glad I checked out their music and will be looking forward to hearing the album in it's entirely, any new music, and hopefully seeing the band live eventually. I bet they can really stretch out into a great blues jam.
Check it out for yourself and see what you think.
You can find clips from the entire album on the Darrin James homepage here: http://darrinjames.com/
You can listen to the 4 songs on their Myspace page here: http://www.myspace.com/darrinjamesband
And last but not least, you can listen to clips from the album and purchase the album directly from CD Baby here: http://cdbaby.com/cd/darrinjamesband