From British guitarist, singer and composer James Rivers Duff, comes Love Your Self, a gentle five-tracked EP expressing personal reflections on life, love and death. Whilst at first listen the tracks might sound somewhat conventional, the way in which Duff is clearly speaking from the heart marks it out as a truly personal project. This was especially true in Higher Love, my favourite track, where the advisory nature of the lyrics seems to be an address to the singer himself. This personal investment is further highlighted by the breathy and tender sound of the vocals. These pervade the whole record, along with a sense of their subdued, reflective and calm nature. Given the host of other musicians that are featured here, it is impressive that such an idiosyncratic style not only dominates but suffuses what is actually quite a large ensemble.
Nevertheless, the ensemble is not blotted out, and whilst it reinforces Duff’s musical character well (such as in Work It Out, where the melodic and flowing vocals are complemented and emphasised by the chordal instrumental backing), it does more than this: it is not simply filler. An example of this lies in the same song with the female backing vocals (Jess Burnett-Wain, Phoebe Lennard, Lucy Marsden and Emma Morgan). They form a wonderful contrast with Duff’s voice and disperse some of the focus of attention a little, allowing the ears to take in more of the music as a whole, instead of being fixated on the lead singer. The point is that you can hear Duff and his band working together, instead of the band acting simply as a platform.
This appreciation for the instrumental as well as the vocal demonstrates influences from both jazz and folk music, which can be heard most clearly in the final track Letting Go. These two genres actually seemed to be synthesised quite neatly, and amongst them I also picked up flavours of Death Cab For Cutie, Band Of Horses and perhaps even Bon Iver at times. Again, however, the personal style of Duff’s musicianship shone through and it was at all times obviously his. An especially nice quirk was the slight colourations of baritone saxophone (Joe Henwood) played here and there, for example at the beginning of Firefly and Letting Go. Its appearances were brief and suggestive, and the saxophone should have been featured much more throughout the EP, but as it was it lent a great deal to the jazzy aura.
My only criticism of his style is that its subdued nature occasionally acted as an upper limit on the efficacy of its emotional intensity. There were a few moments – take Letting Go for example – where it sounded as if the gentleness and even shyness was going to erupt into a climax of expression, but this never really happened. This proved somewhat disappointing as the message of the lyrics was almost always gracefully translated into the music, and it was therefore possible to hear the latter not quite living up to the former.
Having said that, there were also occasions where the music enhanced the lyrical message very effectively. In Higher Love, the upbeat mood of the instrumental and melodic material gave the powerful subject matter a spin of wisdom and even spiritual understanding. This in fact applies to the EP as a whole. It is very thoughtful, reflective, even meditative. The trials of life, personal growth and dealing with changing situations are all brought to bear and the result is an honest, straightforward and convincing collection of songs.
- Work It Out
- Time Is Yours
- Higher Love
- Letting Go
James Rivers Duff – vocals and acoustic guitar
Ed Gallimore – drums
Mike Pockett – bass guitar
Jason Ballard – percussion
Adam Wilkens – electric guitar, banjo and BV’s
Freddy Wilkens – keyboard
Joe Henwood – baritone saxophone
Jess Burnett-Wain – backing vocals
Phoebe Lennard – backing vocals
Lucy Marsden – backing vocals
Emma Morgan – backing vocals