Sometimes the buzz around new talent can peter out once the rubber hits the road and the first album lands. Mitch James has had significant noise around him for a year or two, with his compelling ‘homeless artist-to-signed with Sony’ story capturing imaginations.
Released in May, 21 was actually the fourth single from this self-titled album debut. The concept of a 23-year old wanting to go back a full two years in time was compelling (4 million Spotify streams and counting) and it’s great to find that the whole album is similarly a cracker.
Ed Sheeran is the easy comparison to make – and he is a mentor for the young Kiwi singer/songwriter. Despite Sheeran’s appeal and massive success, the comparison risks doing James something of a disservice. James’ voice has more range than Sheeran’s, and there are a grit and a strength to his vocals matching that easy familiarity that’s deeply pleasing to the ear.
2016’s No Fixed Abode, which announced and introduced him, is now closing in on Sheeran-like 20 million Spotify plays. There’s plenty of commercial appeal in the likes of 21 and Can’t Help Myself to attract radio schedulers but this album hits a deeper and more profound sweet spot which makes it memorable.
Tracks like One More and Apologise record powerful life moments that show a huge amount of heart in his songwriting. Piano ballad No Getting Older and pop-rocker It Ain’t Helping (electric guitar/band) are tight and terrific.
The album was recorded by Simon Gooding at Roundhead Studios in Auckland. Production is exemplary, a real star turn in its own right courtesy of first-time producers Ji Fraser and Eli Paewai of Six60 fame.
Mitch James’ struggles to find a way to the top are well documented but judged by this brilliant debut that tough life experience is about to give way to spectacular international success.