Singer-songwriters are two-a-penny. They’ve got to have something distinctive about them now to really allow them to rise above the crowd. I’m not sure that, on the basis of his first EP at least, James Robinson has quite done enough to absolutely capture my imagination. But, ‘Start A Fire’, released in the frenzy before Christmas, is a pleasantly crafted EP put together by somebody with undeniable talent. I’ve played the EP to friends who like it more than me so I thought I’d bow to their opinions and write a feature on ‘Sonic Breakfast’.
James Robinson is from Devon. If you listen carefully to the way he pronounces words when he sings, you can pick out a West Country accent. In an age when it’s easier to mimic Mariah or sing as if you’re American (even though you’re from Henley-On-Thames), this is to be broadly commended. The press release that accompanies ‘Start A Fire’ tells me that James was the front man in an alt-pop band called Two Spot Gobi. Despite touring with the likes of Jason Mraz and Bruno Mars (or perhaps because of), I have never heard of Two Spot Gobi.
Regular readers of ‘Sonic Breakfast’ will realise that I’m a sucker for a song with an immediate lyric. I’m generally keen on those tunes that avoid the vague and oblique. I don’t mind having to interpret a bit and I quite enjoy some tunes that can be understood from a range of perspectives but I don’t particularly want to complete a cryptic crossword puzzle when listening. And, I suspect, that this is why, despite liking the delivery and the arrangements across the ‘Start A Fire’ EP, I’m struggling to enjoy it as much as my friends. I don’t doubt that the lyrics are personal and deeply meaningful for James but, for me, I can’t find the entrance.
It’s a four track EP. The title track bounces along to open proceedings. It’s radio-friendly with a singalong ‘ooh-ooh-ooh’ based chorus. It might be about a long-distance relationship or catching up with a friend over a recently-lit camp fire. But, despite repeated listens, I can’t be sure on that front. ‘Demons’ has a shuffling chill-out feel about it. Here, you can see why some Jeff Buckley comparisons have surfaced. Carried by a jazz-laden bass, this is surely about standing up against the challenges life can throw at you. ‘Holes In The Sky’ is a little less perky than the title track and has a lyric that might be saying something about global warming (but probably isn’t).
Here’s what James said about this EP: “At times it’s energetic and hopeful, other times it’s a little more pragmatic and cynical but creatively speaking it’s where I find myself currently – somewhere in between. It’s real, and I hope people will grasp that.”
I might fall into that group that doesn’t entirely grasp. But, I refuse to write James off quite yet. If truth be told, these are clever tunes that do grow on you with repeated listens. My friends like it more than I do as well so give it a spin and tell me that I’m wrong…..