There’s just a way to tell when you’re listening to pop music that’s coming from an authentic place; and when the voice singing is also behind the words being sung. A veteran of NBC’s Songland show, Nashville-based pop songwriter Jeffrey James‘ latest EP is the result of time spent during the pandemic collaborating remotely with talent around the world, and reviving older songs that didn’t make previous releases. The final product manages to still come through as a cohesive, soulful collection that exhibits James’ immaculate pop songcraft.
Opener “Sober” finds James in crooner mode, languishing over a relationship that only seems to find sparks when both parties are drunk (“We keep pretending that we’re better as friends. How come we never do this shit when we’re sober?”). From the mellow piano opening to the swelling second act that brings things towards a cinematic expanse, the track shows off James’ knack for clear pop hooks.
What’s also clear is James knows how to write narrative-driven lyrics that are both relatable and easy to sing along to. “Making it Up”, a hand clap-driven soul pop number, accesses James’ fear of the future and feelings of being lost (“I always thought I would have it all together. Turning 24 and lost as ever”), but ties up the story by acknowledging this is a place in life that everyone finds themselves in, including our parents. Strongly arranged with orchestration and backing vocals, the song shines with a radio-friendly sheen. Equally accessible is “Small Talk”, with its muted guitars and subdued percussion underscoring lyrics exposing the universal awkwardness of first date small talk, and the desire to find more meaningful dialogue with a potential partner.
The piano is clearly James’ songwriting tool of choice, and listening to “In the Back of My Mind”, it’s hard not to think of him as the male Adele, performing gentle, stripped back pop coming from a more classic, organic place than much of the modern Top 40 sound. Elements of gospel and soul inflect his songs, preventing ballads like “We Can Be Heroes” from being swamped in maudlin sentiment. While it would be nice to hear James kick things up a notch in future releases with some more rollicking-style tunes, he clearly knows his way around a heartfelt hook.
Listen to Jeffery James‘ latest EP here.