Move over, Mraz. Take a seat, Mr. Mayer. There's a new kid in town and he's poised to take over the pop-rock, singer-songwriter throne. And he's no Jason or John or even Dave. Derek James is his name, and his debut disc, Stray, is full of eleven perfectly poppy songs that are succinct, snappy, and damn sexy. The disc starts out hot with the song 'Free Love,' in which James sings about a temptress who'll 'Melt you down to a puddle of a man/ just looking for his pride.' After repeated listens to this album, however, it's hard to imagine James loosing his cool. For a freshman release, this album is surprisingly confident. James never waivers, but he's also never cocky. This confidence is evident in the hit 'Summer,' which is ready for relentless radio rotation. It'll make you want to sing the line 'she doesn't know who I am' over and over with your car windows down and your shades on. 'Ain't No Thing Is Perfect,' another ready-for-radio ditty, about a girl in search of the perfect man, will make you bop your head and shake your booty while repeating that great mantra. James has a knack for writing love songs that are intelligent and heartfelt, and will surely make the ladies swoon. 'Skye' is a sweet coming-of-age love song about a young woman searching for her identity. 'It's time to be me said she/ then she shed her skin and out there came original life through every vein,' sings James. He continues saying, 'She was life/ felt her through me/ like warm showers from the sun/ let it rain.' 'Pretty Lady' is a standout love song. It's so soft, slow, and sweet that you can almost see that look of love in his eyes as he whispers to his woman, 'Pretty lady I don't want to ever say goodnight/we're burning strong let's keep the flame alive/ pretty lady you feel me/ pretty lady go on and breathe me all night.' Every song on Stray is an absolute gem, each with it's own flair, but not so different that it's alarming. There's a ragtime feel to the song 'Smoky Light,' and 'Dust in the Wind' features a great cello intro. There's even the political and poppy 'There is the Sun,' in which James expresses frustration about anti-American sentiment and the state of current U.S. politics. Regardless of your opinion, he says it's important to be heard. James even adds the French phrase 'Ca donnez moi l'espoir,' which means 'that gives me hope.' And while his catchy pop-rock licks certainly have a major Beatles influence, James is fresh enough to retain his own distinctive sound, possibly due to the help of his Williamsburg production team Assaf Spector and Eytan Oren. The only thing wrong with Stray is that after 37 minutes, it comes to an end. -Arien Rozelle, FEELINGANXIOUS.COM.
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