Singer/songwriter Galen James recently dropped 'Big Blue Mixtape', a compilation of songs from his previous albums. Living in L.A. and presented stylistically as a pop-jazz fusion musician, James combines elements of jazz, pop, R&B, funk and rock into music that is vaguely indicative of a young Justin Timberlake. Lots of variable beats blended with a sanitary, boy-band voice.
The jazz-pop fusion style is an attempt to join the dynamic power of rock with the intricacy and extemporization of jazz. It is full of electronic instruments, guitars and compact drum beats that emphasize a snapping snare drum, along with a boosted, splashy high-hat. Although this type of music generally demands technical proficiency, it is merely an approach than a strict style of music. Still, like any style or genre of music, it is dependent upon melody and rhythm; in other words, excellent composition.
About half the songs on 'Big Blue Mixtape' were recorded live on a two-inch analog tape and, frankly, James and his band Compendium sound better live than they do on studio tracks. More than likely, this is the result of an inability to go back and tinker with the music, which frequently leads to musical overcompensation and, in turn, a contrived, synthetic sound. Like most people, musicians and producers tend to overthink things to the point of exhaustion.
'Big Blue Mixtape' encompasses twenty tracks, most just over three minutes in length. Opener 'African' is moved along by a funky jazz beat and a brass section that provides a quasi-big-band-feel. An uneven melody makes the tune sound jerky, while James' voice is overly soft and clean. 'Stars' begins with a piano intro and lax vocals, however once the band joins in, James' voice gains gusto and the tune steadies.
Weak choppiness defines 'The Other Me'. Recorded live, the vocals start off pretty good, but then things begin to fall apart as they assume a spongy quality. 'Bird' displays an innocuous reggae beat, as if James decided that less is more. In this case, less is bland. The song just doesn't work.
The best song on the album is 'Take You There' of which there are two versions on the album. The first is a live version, and an upbeat soft rocker that allows James to take the muzzle off and show off the range of his voice. It is far superior to the studio remix counterpart with its electronica agenda and I'm-in-a-boy-band vocals that reduces it to mediocrity.
'Big Blue Mixtape' provides an overview of James' career, his influences, his particular style and his development as a singer/songwriter. The problem is that his voice is too tidy and too safe, and, with one exception, none of the songs stand out.
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