Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

James Day: Following Day

James Day @bluesandsoul.com
James Day @bluesandsoul.com James Day @bluesandsoul.com James Day @bluesandsoul.com James Day @bluesandsoul.com

Boasting an impressive array of respected names from the worlds of soul and jazz, this month sees the release of soul songwriter/producer James Day’s new album “Song, Soul & Spirit”. Which, released independently by James himself, has already bee acclaimed as “the kind of sinewy, ultra-seductive music that you can enjoy with a lover, jam to at an all-ages family barbecue or groove to in the company of close friends - an elegant sound steeped in soulfulness and marinated with good-spirited energy.”

Indeed, with its all-star cast including soul men Glenn Jones, Tony Terry & Tim Owens alongside jazz chart-toppers U-Nam and Lin Rountree (the first single “Speak Love”); three of Chaka Khan’s best-loved backing singers Sandra St. Victor, Audrey Wheeler-Downing and Karen Bernod alongside smooth jazz favourites Groove LTD (the Motown-influenced “Love Is My Bible”); songstress-cum-film star Cheryl “Pepsi” Riley (the social anthem “Battlegrounds”); Tony-nominated actress/singer Elisabeth Withers with seasoned jazz saxophonist Walter Beasley (the inspirational ballad “Stand On My Shoulders”); Grammy-winners Gordon Chambers and Paula Cole (the motivational “Forgiveness”); plus James’ all-time favourite female collaborators Maysa (a remix of “We Dance”) and five-times Grammy winner Lalah Hathaway (the lullaby “Dreamland”), “Song, Soul & Spirit” finds Day working in the spirit of “Q’s Juke Joint”-era Quincy Jones on a talent-laden set that has prestigiously already topped the UK Soul Chart.

Growing up 40 miles north-east of Boston in the small Massachusetts fishing village of Rockport, a young James’ early musical appreciation began with dancing to his sister’s Jackson 5 records, playing his mother’s Nat “King” Cole albums and delving into LPs from his grandfather’s extensive and diverse record collection, from which Natalie Cole’s 1975 debut set “Inseparable” would eventually emerge to become the record that would begin his life-long love affair with soul music.

Nevertheless, things would take a painful turn following Day’s move to New York to study Musical Theatre at The American Academy Of Dramatic Arts when he became diagnosed with bi-lateral Meniere’s Disease - a rare ongoing disorder that affects the inner ear and leads to vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss. Which would in turn lead to his moving back home where he underwent extensive treatments and surgeries. However, despite being told he had a one-in-four chance of the same thing happening with his remaining good ear, James’ passion for music (which by this time had already seen him dancing in a Chaka Khan video) did not die; his new-found enthusiasm for writing songs in turn leading to him building his own home studio.

Following which one of his demos would attract the attention of locally-based, globally-famed New Edition/New Kids On The Block creator Maurice Starr who wanted the song in question for then-teen pop superstar Tiffany, shortly after which James’ first actual professional demo would end up being recorded by then-up-and-coming soul songstress Lalah Hathaway whose producer at the time requested the song for her second album. Which would in turn (though neither song ultimately ended up on either artist’s album) convince Day that songwriting was the career path he should pursue. A decision which would later lead to him winning grand prizes in the John Lennon and Billboard World Song Contests plus a scholarship from the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. However, while this would at first lead to some song placements in the world of film and TV plus a couple of major label cuts, the music industry’s then-increasing penchant for beats and samples would eventually work against him in his homeland.

Nevertheless, while interest in Day’s songwriting in his native US may have been dwindling, on the UK’s Modern Soul scene things were decidedly looking up - ultimately resulting in him releasing his critically-acclaimed first two albums (2006’s “Better Days” and 2009’s “Natural Things”) through revered London-based soul indie Expansion Records.

…Which in a nutshell pretty much brings us back to today. As a personable Mr. Day hooks up from his Massachusetts home with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing and interesting interview around his aforementioned new album.

Titling his new album “Song, Soul & Spirit”

“The theme of this album was very much inspired by several things that happened during the last year in America, like the shootings of so many young black children by police officers and civilians and the lack of justice or recourse their families seem to have. Which in turn moved into the election - you know, the whole Trump campaign and the hatred and the division that ‘that’ brought about. And then at the same time a big thing happened over here with (gospel singer) Kim Burrell. Where you had a video of her right before she’s going on (top-rated TV chat show) “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” screaming at gay people that they’re perverts and they’re gonna die! So with all this going on throughout the time this album was being created, I felt I couldn’t really write about anything other than pretty serious things. And then once the serious songs were written like “Battlegrounds” and “Love Is My Bible” - which between them kind of addressed those two things that I was just talking about - I started thinking about other songs from my catalogue, that I’d already written, that I thought might suit the mood of the album. Like “No Son Of Mine” - which I decided to remix with the beautiful vocal of Cleveland P. Jones - that I felt would bring some power to the collection, as well as the Trina Broussard-featuring song “It’s All Divine” which, because it’s sort of looking at the whole situation from a more ‘positive’ light, I thought also needed to be on there... So yeah, basically it is a collection of songs, and it is definitely soul music, and it is a very spiritual album. Which, to answer your question the longest way possible (!), is the reason why “Song, Soul & Spirit” as a title did seem to capture its overall vibe perfectly”.

Some of the standout established singers he chooses to work with

“Glenn Jones has always been a favourite of mine. I mean, he was always right up there with Luther Vandross to me - he just didn’t quite have the hits and the promotion. You know, so many things have to fall in line to make a superstar. But yeah, in terms of pure talent he has one of the greatest voices of that period, and it’s one which is still as good today as it was at his peak on the radio…it’s always a privilege to work with Glenn. And the same thing with Tony Terry, who did have his Number One hit days... Like I remember loving his (1987-released) song “Forever Yours”, and I do actually find it extra-exciting when I get to work with somebody that I grew up listening to... Then in terms of female vocalists, Lalah Hathaway, Maysa, Trina Broussard and Audrey Wheeler are my four favourite singers of all time! And so for this album I just went for the cream of the crop and got them all on board!... Plus another singer I’d like to mention is Paula Cole. And the reason it was so much fun to work with her on this record was because, although she’s a Grammy-winner who had a Number One hit with the theme-song to “Dawson’s Creek” which was like a seven-year-running television drama series over here, from that she then went on to do a jazz record with (Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter) Chris Botti. And so because I knew that she had this jazz/gospel/R&B side to her I teamed her up with Gordon Chambers. And I just felt it was great to hear her on that track (“Forgiveness”) singing really soulfully and showing people that she can do so many different styles.”

The album “Song, Soul & Spirit” is out now.

@JamesDaySongs
Words PETE LEWIS

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