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Nate James - Set The Tone


Review: Jack Foley

"I'M very much a person that writes from the heart," says suave British newcomer, Nate James. "It's very soul/funk because my influences are Prince, Lenny and, of course, Raphael Saadiq."

With this in mind, Set The Tone is very much a debut album that emulates many of his influences, as well as more contemporary acts such as Jamiroquai and Craig David in places.

It's an extremely accomplished affair that exudes the suave style that James seems to exude in all areas of his life.

Yet it occasionally struggles to sound different - emerging as a fun but generic listen that's a little too easy to pin down.

Opening track, Said I'd Show You, is a good example of this, emerging as an infectious slice of smooth summer soul that sets the tempo well without really standing out.

James' vocals are extremely smooth and his lyrics reflect the mantra he used while writing - 'they illustrate that I'm a guy who likes to enjoy himself!'

Second track, The Message, feels like a grittier version of Jamiroquai crossed with Stevie Wonder - no bad thing, but a little too prone to obvious comparisons.

The lyrics are typically upbeat - 'got to get up and dance, can you hear my message to the people' - and they're tailor-made to generate a party spirit.

But as funky as things remain, there is a little something missing to prevent them from appearing truly great.

The album picks up considerably with the arrival of second single, Universal, which really grasps the classic party feel of Stevie Wonder in a vibrant, feel-good manner.

It's one of several tracks that seem to pick themselves as favourites and future singles.

Title track, Set The Tone, is another strong example of James at his best, playing like a smooth groove R'n'B classic that features a more serious/sultry side to the singer-songwriter.

While Funky Love is, like its title suggests, a genuinely funky dance-floor filler.

Dawn Robinson appears on the rock-driven, I'll Decline, which benefits from the vocal trade-off between the smooth style of James, and the sassy style of his guest star, as well as some raw guitar riffs.

While more female vocals help to lend a touch of class to the ballad, Justify Me, which shows the tender side of the artist while emulating the current trend for incorporating a gospel-style backing sound.

It's just a shame that for all of the stylish values surrounding the album, it doesn't quite seem adventurous enough to justify the vibe surrounding James as an artist.

It's funky and breezy enough but it could benefit from a touch of innovation.

 

Track listing:
1. Said I’d Show You
2. The Message
3. Get This Right
4. Universal
5. Set The Tone
6. Funky Love
7. Justify Me
8. I Don’t Wanna Fight
9. I’ll Decline featuring Dawn Robinson
10. Impossible
11. Can’t Stop
12. Shake Out

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