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GAC Album Review: Casey James’ Self-Titled Debut

Casey James

Casey James' 2012 self-titled debut album. Photo courtesy of Sony Music Nashville.

Texan Casey James was a Top-3 finalist on American Idol during the singing competition’s ninth season. Throughout the spring of 2010, Casey advanced through each round of the show with a blend of country, pop and soul easily seen through his choices to cover artists like Keith Urban, Bryan Adams and John Mayer. On his self-titled debut album hitting stores on March 20, Casey takes cues from each with a crisp, country-crossover set that is big on heartland feel and filled with bluesy guitar.

Like each of the aforementioned singers, Casey’s creative input goes beyond being a voice on studio tracks. On American Idol, performances are designed for the hopeful new talents to cover well-known songs or artists. It’s uncommon to see a contestant playing an instrument on stage, yet Casey frequently showed off his skills with a six-string. This sort of thinking and approach also drives his debut album, where the 29-year old singer/songwriter serves as co-producer with Chris Lindsey and co-wrote nine of the record’s 11 songs.

The overall sound of Casey James can be described as something similar to James Otto learning to play guitar like Keith Urban. The first single “Let’s Don’t Call It A Night” hints at Otto’s “These are the Good Ole Days” with its groove-filled bass line and subtle keys adding well-placed dynamics. Casey’s voice contains shades of that Texas rasp, yet sounds warm and engaging singing, The way your body’s movin’ slowly to the music only leaves me wanting more. On the steady-rollin’ “Crying on a Suitcase,” Casey’s rhythmic vocal is methodical during the verse before opening into a big radio-ready chorus of open guitars and slicing pedal steel. Here, and on songs like the ballad “So Sweet,” Casey enjoys the freedom of loose musical arrangements that allow for his fluid guitar leads.

Casey’s raw and emotional guitar playing maneuvers between tender on ballads like “Undone” and “Love the Way You Miss Me,” to fully-charged on songs like the backwater blues, “Drive.” Begging for a volume dial that ‘goes to 11,’ “Drive” is the sonic equivalent to the joy and freedom found driving fast down an open road. Built around a nasty little acoustic guitar lick, Casey sounds almost unhinged singing I’m headed out to nowhere like a bullet from a gun on the swampy foot-stomper, before later adding, Baby, I just like to drive. “Tough Love,” the album’s heaviest song, also serves up a dose of gator-filled distortion and slithering electric riffs with vivid lyrics like, They said this love was a hurricane that would come and go so fast. Songs like these give the record added depth and a bit of an edge when placed next to the slower love songs.

Maybe it’s because Casey was so involved in the creative setup of the project, or maybe it’s that his voice and guitar are just that in sync, but Casey James is a compelling debut with an authentic feel. Even on tracks Casey didn’t write, like the Southern rock-influenced “Workin’ On It,” his vision of soulful tones and universal themes comes across with head-bobbing clarity. On this promising debut, Casey shows himself as a talented young artist that might be on the verge of something big.

Key Tracks – “Drive,” “Let’s Don’t Call It A Night,” “Crying on a Suitcase,” “Miss Your Fire”

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