Bill Withers: Live at Carnegie Hall
This was the first Bill Withers record I ever bought. I was getting heavily into soul music and a lot of singer songwriters at the time. I was also living in Brighton, playing shows pretty much every night. So, when I got to the record shop, instead of going for one of the produced-up studio recorded albums, I was immediately drawn to Live at Carnegie Hall. I took it home, put it on and remember how as soon as it finished; I leaned over and hit play again, straight away. I was so hooked, I remember having it on repeat for the rest of the week. Some of the tracks that really stood out during that first listen, and that remain favourites are “I Can’t Write Left Handed” - an incredible, yearning song, written from the point of view of a young soldier in the Vietnam war who's been badly wounded and clearly just needs to get out. “Harlem” is another highlight. I love how the song goes up a key each time the verse comes round again. It’s the same piano riff each time, but it gets more and more exciting as the key gets higher. Bill puts on an incredible performance and it’s been so well captured. I love picking out to all his interactions with the audience, too – telling them, during a call and response in “Harlem” that it’s pronounced “…Muss’ I holla – not ‘Must I holler!’” Hearing him live in this way is really special, he’s a huge influence and though apparently this record didn’t chart, for me, its one of his finest.
John Mayer: Continuum
I started out just playing guitar in my bedroom, listening to blues and soul and accumulating many of my own riffs, chord progressions and guitar parts along the way. It wasn’t until I discovered John Mayer’s Continuum that I really started trying out lyric ideas and melodies over the top of those guitar parts, and started to write songs.
Continuum is an incredible set of songs; From 'Waiting On The World To Change', to' Stop This Train', 'Slow Dancing In A Burning Room' to 'Gravity' – when I discovered this record I was fifteen and it had everything I wanted to hear, and still does. The lyrics are some of the first that really stopped me in my tracks, and inspired me to write: “I’m so scared of getting older/ I’m only good at being young” was one of the stand out lines of the album for me. The playing on this record is outstanding, too – a lot of music has so much noise crammed into every little space, but with Continuum, the playing and parts on tracks like 'Vultures' and 'I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You' get room to breathe and be heard. As I discover new music every day, Continuum is still and always will be one of my go to records.
I got into Feist, like so many others, when I discovered the 2007 album The Reminder. And although that album includes some amazing and widely successful songs - such as '1,2,3,4' and 'Limit To Your Love', for me it’s on Metals that Feist’s music really comes to life. Turn the volume up all the way on the biggest pair of speakers you can find and the raw emotion on this record is monstrous. Right down to the tiniest little production features, every detail counts. I remember going loud on my first listen, alone in the house with the speakers ready to burst, and as that faint thud of a kick drum fades in the first track- 'The Bad In Each Other'- I knew something amazing was coming. That’s the atmosphere this record creates, all the way through. Particularly on 'Undiscovered First',- half way through when it gets to the B chorus; “Is this the right mountain…” The sound of that percussion is enormous – like a giant cathedral door slamming in a thunderstorm. Even the smaller details, like the slap back echo on Feist’s delicate, powerful vocal, and the fact that she plugs her acoustic guitar straight into a cranky old electric guitar amp only adds power to the music. And the whining sadness of the guitar riff of 'Anti Pioneer' is alone enough to break hearts.
6 months after the album was released, and I had learned every word, I was lucky enough to stand up in ‘the gods’ and watch her perform the whole thing at the Royal Albert Hall. Easily one of the best shows I’ll ever see.
James’s debut E.P The Dark Of The Morning came out on the 22nd July, you can buy it here