Colours & Changes is Austin James’ massive meditation on the shape of life, from birth to death. The 14-track album emphasizes acoustic soul, with forays into exultant R&B, dark blues-rock, meditative folk, and danceable funk. James’ charismatic vocals whisper, soar, and confide.
Listening in one sitting is a journey that starts with hope, revelation, and celebration. This A-side culminates in the gospel-tinged R&B romance of Like Lovers Would Do (track 8). The B side retools its sounds to explore disconnection, failure, and the persistence of hope.
It says something about my 2021 mood that my favorite tracks are Delaware and Winter Rain. The album is best appreciated as a full album, though; it’s beautifully tracked and musically complex. Come listen track-by-track. (Spotify embed at bottom.)
The opening track resolves out of chaos into a songwriter at his piano, thinking aloud. With the cadence of a lullaby, he muses on finding purpose through responsibility.
Gentle acoustic guitar summons a California of long dusty summer afternoons. The song has the feel of little stucco buildings, eucalyptus, and orange trees. Country-western idioms sneak in, with elegiac phantasmal sound effects. It’s the Golden State through the golden haze of memory.
The place becomes the metaphor for the bittersweet confidence of going home again. Pay attention to a sound effect in the middle that feels like it’s about motion. It will come up again with a different meaning.
On Life and Love
This track, inspired by the birth of Austin James’ child, was released as a single in early 2020. Vocals soar in celebration of purpose and connection, imbued with deep humility. The instrumentation whispers a story of hesitance and eagerness in accepting this gift.
A pop anthem that lives up to its name, it’s pure emotion that showcases the power and purity of Austin James’ vocals. It has the feel of a worship song, both in production and in its emphasis on disruptive grace.
The opening notes feel like doom, and the lyrics feel like a prayer. If the first half of the song is humble supplication, the second is a dark night of the soul. “Come find me when I’ve lost my way” feels like a gentle plea in the first half. After tumult–earthquakes in the lyrics are in the music, too–it feels like both a promise and a dare.
Listen for the tension between discordance and coordination. Both move with a low-key hypnotic pace that begs for the same normality as the lyrics. Paired with lyrics about how being normal isn’t that big an ask, the feel is tight-wound patience that yearns for relaxation.
One long breath of wonder fills the first half with a litany of discovery. Then the song takes an upbeat, percussive turn into exploring future possibilities. Listen for the guitar line, like falling rain, that forms a stable core for the whirlwind of emotions.
Like Lovers Would Do
Here’s an R&B love song driven by growling passion, as well as horns and a gospel back-up vocals. Lyrics about emotional intimacy had me braced for metaphor, but no! It’s prelude to and framing for kisses and intertwined legs. Imbued with big-band style and the fervor of gospel, the song is intensely romantic.
The acoustic guitar of Delaware is icy and gray. Layered vocals, reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel looking for America, tell of feeling lost. Western motifs linked California Home with golden dusty memories. Fiddle grounds Delaware in folk’s yearning on rocky shores. Distance and solitude imbue this song about lost connection. The twist of “could I find me in a crowd?” comes as a surprise to me on every listen.
This chilly alternative-funk track feels like a walk through New York City streets. With an infectiously danceable chorus, it’s a quotable litany of mistakes and regrets. The “nights in a storm” may be metaphor, but the production has the mood of passing bright windows, seeing everyone else safe and warm. Each element–horn, snare, beat–is friendly, yet distanced by restlessness.
In sound, this is the flip side of Crescendo. It’s a lament rather than a celebration, soaring with loneliness rather than connection. Juxtaposition of mundane details with soul-deep yearning carries a fundamental truth about grief. It is a quiet little ordinary itch and a great rending regret: sometimes both at once.
Tell Me More Child
Dark blues-rock riffs explore the intersection between what drags you down and what moves you forward. The growl of Like Lovers Do is back, this time seeking connection in brokenness. Where Like Lovers Do pulled out all the stops for R&B, this track does the same for roughly the era of Cream’s Crossroads.(That touchpoint is chosen not for Cream but for the ties to Robert Johnson’s Crossroad. Tell Me More Child is about a crossroad of sorts, and bluesy wails are not irrelevant to the album as a whole.) Tell Me More Child is a different kind of romance: less idealistic, perhaps more enduring.
All Fall Down
“You mended my fences; I built them back taller” is a thought-provoking twist on familiar “tore down my walls” metaphors. Though this song echoes the ballad mood of One Life and Love or Things Unexpected, it’s lyrically the flip side of Normal. Normality has proven harsh (fitting for our pestilence years), and so the lyrics defy the merely normal. We can and will do better.
This is a different Anhelo than the single (Parts I and II), which musically worked through grief for Austin James’ sister. The gauzy sound of this Part III suggests imagination or memory–an impossible distance–and a level of acceptance. Breath in, breath out sets acceptance of loss within the rhythm of life, as the final sound folds back into chaos and silence.