Not everyone has a near death experience and is given a second chance. However, this is the case for California-based singer-songwriter Justin James. After an encounter with a tiger shark left him bleeding to death on a South American beach, multiple blood transfusions and hundreds of stitches later, James found himself bedridden for a long year of recovery. Lucky to be alive, but understandably frustrated, an acoustic guitar gifted to him by his grandmother helped revive James’ longing for life, surf and music.
Definitely a life changing event, the encounter refocused his outlook on life. “It’s crazy to digest,” he writes on his Web site. “That’s why I spend my life now chasing what I love the most: traveling, surfing and playing music.”
Listeners can hear this passion on his latest release, Perfect Sometimes. Produced by Andrew Williams (Five for Fighting) and Mikal Blue (Colbie Callait, One Republic), Perfect Sometimes is a stand out release that one can find himself listening to for hours on repeat. While his easy-going and effortless singing style begs comparisons to that of Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz and fellow California songstress Colbie Caillat, his music has been making a distinct impact on its own. Hit single, “California” earned James a “Best Male Vocalist” nod at the 2007 Los Angeles Music Awards which eventually brought him to Japan, where it peaked at number 5 on the Top 40 chart.
The laid-back title track, “Perfect Sometimes,” kicks off the 11-song release. Featuring ukulele legend Jake Shimabukuro, the listener is taken on a journey with James’ accompanying soothing vocals. While his delicate guitar picking is reminiscent to Jack Johnson, it is his vivid lyrical description that transforms the listener to a tropical island complete with an orange tree, sun and sand. Not always an easy feat for a singer, the listener can actually picture himself at the beach – feet in the sand and the ocean waves reverberating in his ears.
What is perhaps most striking of the album is that James’ voice is so relaxing and comforting, making it easy for one to get lost in the music. Singing of love, hope and heartache, his stories are moving and relatable while each track segues effortlessly into the next.
On “Deeper Waters” James sings of a former love and not wanting to see her “with another man.” Trying to find solace, James sings, “Just remember how our story starts/Even when the lights are dark/Even when we’re worlds apart/Even when you’re falling hard/ There’s deeper waters/Even when you’re feeling lost/And the rain is falling soft/Even when you’re hanging on/There’s deeper waters.” With light piano, percussion and James’ poignant vocals this is just one of the many stand out ballads featured on Perfect Sometimes.
“Missed Again” picks up speed after “Deeper Waters.” His lyrics are incredibly honest, the listener easily feeling the emotion throughout the track. With more upbeat guitar accompaniment and percussion, it’s easy to picture James in a concert setting.
Songs like “You Don’t Know Me” talk of long distance love, which tends to be a theme throughout Perfect Sometimes. “Know that I’ve been gone for so long/But you can never get left behind/Far from you but you’re in my heart/You will be through in time/Find some trust/Let’s hope that you believed in us/You think you know it all/I need you to believe in me,” he sings.
“Moonlight” switches gears and sounds like a classic song that could have been sung by the older greats like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. A more mature feel, James sings, “Surrender to moonlight tonight/Your eyes tempt me gently to your side.” With soaring string accompaniment, “Moonlight” is one of the album’s hidden gems.
One of the last tracks on Perfect Sometimes, James sings, “All I want to be is forever free/Running with the wind,” on “Running With the Wind.” Singing in a deeper voice than heard on previous tracks, the emotional ballad proves James’ staying power. Such a versatile release, Perfect Sometimes is sure to bring the California surfer plenty of years catching waves on the music scene.
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