Album Review: James & Paul – Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa is the second release from Morpeth-based father and son song writing duo James & Paul. A collection of fourteen songs all recorded over the past year sees the pair taking on subjects as diverse as Armageddon, COVID and whether Clyde’s life might have panned out differently if he hadn’t met Bonnie. Here’s my track by track review.

By Graeme Smith

There’s a timeless feel to album opener Modern Romance. It has classic rock and pop sensibilities but delivered with a modern edge. The sound reflects the pair’s diverse range of influences that include Simon & Garfunkel, Radiohead and Death Cab For Cutie. Perhaps it’s inevitable when you have two generations of songwriters coming together, but it’s certain that it works in the case of James & Paul. Modern Romance is a beautifully-written first taste.

Blinded takes things in a bluesy direction, with moody guitar noodling which quickly evolves into a bright pop arrangement. Echoing guitar comes in, the kind that could fill stadiums and, before you know it, you’re nodding along to the beat. It’s followed by Solitude which both slows things down and strips them back. Yet, its acoustic minimalism loses none of the impact of the two lively album openers, and it brings the energy during a dramatic build up halfway through.

There’s a touch of country folk in the form of bittersweet love story Found You. Freeze is a gentle acoustic number, with harmonies aplenty. The Simon & Garfunkel influences come through particularly strongly here. Then it’s Feels Like, a track that injects a some liveliness back into proceedings with fuzzy bass, an epic, adventurous style and attitude-infused lyrics. It’s an album highlight.

WAYCA is an unexpected tale of Bonnie & Clyde, but not the one we all know. It’s a male-female duet, with collaborator Jasmine Crichton taking up the mic. There’s a natural and charismatic feel to the partnership of vocals, mixing well with a classical pop instrumental arrangement. It’s a jewel of a track that rounds of the first half of the album beautifully.

The indie rock stylings of Skyscraper Highs opens the album’s second half, combining lively percussion with hints of ska punk. Ten Thousand Miles is a wish fulfilment fantasy that’s brought to life through delicately plucked and strummed strings and a laidback groove. Track ten is Stay Awake. It tells the story of romance gone stale during coronavirus lockdown via a classic pop rock ballad style.

The album’s title track comes next. It’s a moody instrumental that combines electronic and folk elements to great effect. It’s less than two minutes long but paints a beautifully atmospheric picture. It proves to be a timely interlude leading into the album’s final few tracks.

Track twelve is Please Just…, a tale of one-night stands and regret. There’s a palpable sense of frustration coming from its words and funky instrumental arrangement. The End is the album’s darkest moment, an instrumental taking on the subject of Armageddon. They say it’s darkest before dawn and that’s literal here. The album is rounded of by the bright six minute odyssey New Dawn.

James & Paul have thrown everything into this collection. They’ve spanned genres and gone deep with their lyrics. The result is something that feels ambitious but doesn’t fall short of those ambitions. Put some time aside in your day and give it a proper end to end listen and you’ll be glad you did. You can check out Tabula Rasa below.