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James Bay – Chaos and the Calm

Kimberley Manderson


The Brits Critics Choice award winner always has a lot to live up to, following in the footsteps of the likes of Adele and Emeli Sande, especially if they have only released one song before receiving the accolade. It’s safe to say though that James Bay’s award was well-deserved, as Chaos and the Calm proves to be an exceptional debut album from the Hertfordshire singer-songwriter.

You can’t escape the charts at the moment without hearing one man and his guitar try to dominate, be it Bay or Ed Sheeran, George Ezra, Passenger or so many more, but James Bay seems to have a quality that differs from this bunch.

Chaos and the Calm steers away from r’n’b influences or the popular folky trend and instead offers up soulful ballads and uplifting tracks. It’s like John Mayer and Springsteen had a millennial love child – and that’s no bad thing.

Opening track Craving starts the album as it means to go on, with an upbeat hit that manages to showcase the range in Bay’s voice, right up to the slight falsetto moments, whilst telling a story in the way that Americana and country artists manage with ease. It’s followed by his biggest hit to date, Hold Back the River with its acoustic start before reaching an uplifting climax that can’t help but raise your mood and attitude.

It’s not all inspiration and hope though, as there are some real dark moments in some of the lyrics on slower tracks such as Let It Go and Scars, which detail the breaking points of relationships. Each are simple tracks that need not much more than James Bay’s story, vocal and guitar.

In fact, the whole album could be classed as a series of ‘moments,’ with each track telling its own story. The best by far has to be the Springsteen-laced Get Out While You Can, with its motivational melody and lyrics. It’s like a British Born To Run for the austerity generation. Similarly, a lot of the tracks have this spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment feel about them, whether it’s breaking out of your hometown or getting lost in the heat of a relationship where you can inevitably see the end, like in Incomplete.

Chaos and the Calm is a fantastic collection of songs, or stories, that couldn’t weave together a better debut album for this singer-songwriter if they tried. Let’s hope there’s plenty more stories and moments up James Bay’s sleeve yet.