I came across Branden & James thanks to the ‘Stay at Home with Crazy Coqs’ series on YouTube, introduced shortly after lockdown – at the time of writing, the recording of their concert at Crazy Coqs is still available to view online. Their repertoire spans many different genres, with some renderings quite removed from their original incarnations, but it works, especially when delivered with such heart and passion. I recall watching the concert earlier this year and thinking, “They should do an album of some of this music in order for it to be listened to again and again.”
It would appear I wasn’t the only one to have reached that conclusion – the end result being this album, Chasing Dreams. Branden James’ singing voice has an incredible range across the album, a confident and authoritative tone shining through every number. James Clark’s trusty cello, meanwhile, is practically personified (your reviewer hasn’t, to the best of his knowledge, dealt with the concept of ‘personification’ of inanimate objects since studying English literature at school): taking on a distinct personality of its own, but always in keeping with any given song and its lyrics.
There’s something for almost everyone in this rich mix of songs, which (don’t say I didn’t warn you) doesn’t have musical theatre showtunes in it – ‘A Million Dreams’ doesn’t technically count, The Greatest Showman being a motion picture rather than a stage show. It draws instead from chart music, crossover classical numbers and original material. Listening to the emotive strains of ‘Canto Per Te’ (Italian, according to Google Translate, for ‘I Sing For You’), I wondered if the multilingual nature of the album makes the listener feel that little bit more sophisticated, either by default or by design. It’s a bit like that ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ strapline in advertisements for Audi cars – one wouldn’t know what it meant without being conversant in German or looking it up, but it somehow had appeal.
While some songs have a living room ambience to them, others are like listening to a Josh Groban record – in a good way, for those of us who quite like lush orchestrations and a powerhouse voice to go with them. New songs are interspersed amongst more familiar material – readers of a certain age, for instance, will probably know Don McLean’s ‘Vincent’ (“Starry, starry night / Paint your palette blue and grey”). Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Perfect Symphony’, meanwhile, is what I would term ‘minicab music’, the style of song that would be on the radio as I’m sat in the back of a private hire vehicle going from A to B. And then there’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’, made famous by Roxette, and here, softer and more poignant than the original.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite in amongst such decent material, but if pressed, I’d go for Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’, which seems to sum up the album as a whole. Chasing Dreams isn’t exactly a record to jump and dance to, but it’s a gorgeous and reflective listening experience, nonetheless. If circumstances allow – they will eventually – I’d love to see them live in person in the future, be it at Crazy Coqs or another London venue.
Review by Chris Omaweng
1. “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman recorded by Hugh Jackman, and P!nk for mainstream radio. Written by Pasek & Paul, the composer Grammy, Oscar, Tony & Golden Globe-winning duo behind the hit film, plus the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen & Academy Award-winning La La Land.
2. “Chasing Cars” by the British band Snow Patrol. The song gained fame after playing on the season 2 finale of Grey’s Anatomy.
3. “You and I (Vinceremo)” originally recorded by the Canadian group, The Tenors. Written by Grammy nominees Allan Rich (Run to you by Whitney Houston) and Marco Marinangeli (Josh Groban, Il Volo, One Direction, Andrea Bocelli)
4. “It Must Have Been Love” worldwide #1 Billboard hit made famous by the Swedish band “Roxette”, and written by Per Gessle, one of the bands’ members. The orchestral accompaniment was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London.
5. “Canto Per Te” originally recorded by the Candian tenor Mark Masri who co-wrote it with our producer, Patrick Hamilton and the aforementioned composer Marco Marinangeli.
6. “Somewhere Only We Know” originally recorded by the Grammy-nominated British rock band KEANE.
7. “Till We See” an original song written by multi-grammy winner Keith Thomas (Vanessa Williams, Luther Vandross), Nashville’s Amy Westbrook, and American Idol’s multi-Dove award-winning singer/songwriter, Danny Gokey. We shot a music video to dedicate this song to The Black Lives Matter movement and a continued push for racial equality and justice.
8. “Vincent” Also known as “Starry Starry Night” written and recorded by American composer Don MacLean, and then later made famous by Josh Groban. Also recorded more recently by James Blake & Ellie Goulding.
9. “Perfect Symphony” originally written and recorded as a solo by Ed Sheeran, and then as a duet with Beyoncé & lastly as a duet with Andrea Bocelli. Our version includes a reimagination of the English/Italian duet with Broadway & Popstar Shoshana Bean.
10. “Found and Completed” an original song written by Nashville’s Amy Westbrook & Steven Westbrook
11. “Dancing On My Own” A worldwide mega dance-hit written by Robin Carlsson also known as Robyn. Later recorded by the UK’s Callum Scott.
12. “You Belong” An original song written by Branden James, Jess Godwin & Neil Aitken. This song is meant to serve as an anthem to all of us who have felt marginalized in our lives. In a perfect world, everyone belongs.