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Galen James - Big Blue Mixtape

Big Blue Mixtape is a twenty-song compilation album, featuring the best of Galen James’s six years of recorded repertoire. An impressive mixture of pop, jazz, funk, rock, and r&b, the album is a fantastic representation of a talented artist’s entire career to date.

The album largely centers on James’s voice, crystal clear and agile. He sings with a huge amount of passion and tastefully riffs when appropriate. Furthermore, many of these songs are live recordings, which flatters James and his band; it’s difficult to tell which songs are live and which aren’t, and all the players perform exceptionally well. Horns, keys, guitars, drums, and pianos back James, and the songs are arranged interestingly and effectively.

A large part of the album’s quality can be attributed to its production. Produced by one of Van Morrison’s original guitarists, Doug Messenger, these songs are full of life and lose none of their vitality when played through even the shittiest speakers.

Of all its genres, Big Blue Mixtape relies most heavily on pop. Tracks #3 “Body Karate” and #6 “Night Music” are compelling, energizing, and addictive. I found it hard to believe I hadn’t heard “Night Music” before; its dance beat, Bruno Mars-esque backing track, and repetitive but stimulating melody make it quintessentially radio-friendly.

James’s lyrics aren’t his strength, and this mostly doesn’t matter. Most of the time, his straightforward and simple lyrics fit his genre well. R&B doesn’t require a huge amount of metaphor, and listening to James’s words reminded me of talking to a casually loquacious friend. The only times it bothered me were when the lyrics were the focal point of the song. Track #2 “Stars” begins intimately, with only keys and James’s voice, and the opening lines “Drinking in a dark room/ of course I’m alone tonight/ Sitting in my own gloom/ I’d rather not see the light/ and now I’m doing it again/ again and again and again/ I’m looking at the stars, yeah/ I’m looking at the stars and yeah” failed to grab my attention. In track #9 “What I’d Do,” James sings “Everything for you/is what I’d do.” Was it really that important to make it rhyme?

The album’s most rhythmically sophisticated song is its opener, “African 6/8.” You can tell James knew that, or he wouldn’t fucking call the song that.

Melodically, Big Blue Mixtape is wonderful; so many of the songs caught in my head, especially “Stars,” “Night Life,” and “Yes,” the chorus of which is a single word, strongly featuring James’s vocals, as he joyously screams affirmations against a simply awesome accompaniment from his band.

I genuinely am confused as to why Galen James hasn’t blown up yet; his songs are sophisticated but accessible, his voice is gorgeous, his band is incredibly talented, he has a famous producer who makes his work sound good, he obviously works hard (20 songs is quite a large amount for an album, and shows off James’s notable productivity), and many of these songs are worlds better than the shit you hear on the radio. Help me become less confused by visiting his Bandcamp here.

Score: 4.5/5

Track Listing:

1. African 6/8

2. Stars (Live)

3. Body Karate

4. The Other Me (Live)

5. Yes (Live)

6. Night Music (Live)

7. Without a Care (Live)

8. Looking Back

9. What I'd Do

10. Flood

11. If You Feel You

12. Stars (Live)

13. Take You There (Live)

14. Bird

15. How To Find You

16. How To Find You (Live)

17. Take You There (Remix)

18. What I'd Do (Remix)

19. I Wish You Well

20. Yes (Remix)

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