The last time Brendan James recorded an album, the theme was transition right down to the very title of the 2012 release.
Now as James prepares to follow-up Hope in Transition with new material in 2013, the next stage might just be all about rejuvenation and reclamation.
James, a singer/songwriter who centers his adult-alternative pop sound around his piano playing, released two albums on Decca Records. Before James made a third album, he knew he wasn't satisfied with the arrangement.
The major label mentality of spending a lot of money making an album, but only promoting the first three months its released cut off any head of steam James was able to build, he says.
James left Decca for independent label Rock Ridge Music, which released Hope In Transition. The transition is apparent for James, as he moved from feeling numb about his role in the music business to finding a place of clarity again.
"I needed to start feeling creative and alive again," James says.
James says the last album opened up his process again and he's already returned to the studio to record again. A fourth album is in the finishing stages.
James recorded that freshly-made album earlier this year, booking about three weeks of time at a studio in New York. The record is self-financed, which has had the effect of streamlining and focusing James' process. When its one's own money, time is much more valuable.
"You end up not being in the studio for as many days," he says.
The truncated sessions compared to the Decca recordings has sent James back to his roots, where he's doing piano and vocal takes at the same time.
"For me, the path to my happiness is to get back to the basics," James says
There's a simplicity in doing it that sort of live way, he says. It's also helped his attempt to make something very real that's not fixed and sterilized by computer technology.
James says he's still excited about Hope in Transition, but he has a lot of newer material that he's also eager to get out. The tentative title for the next album is Where I Started, James says.
James also re-recorded a bunch of songs from his major label days at Circular Congregational Church in Charleston, S.C. He recorded all the songs in a day with just piano accompaniment.
Part of his desire to re-record the songs was to combat what sometimes happens in a studio, he says. With so many resources at your fingertips, it's hard to not add more parts to fill all the gaps in a song. There's always seemingly one more thing that could be added to a track.
"A lot of people are guilty of it," he says.
The release, Playing Favorites, tentatively will be out the spring but it may be a limited run release.
"I wanted to get the songs out there without all of the production," James says.
Both songs old and new will crop up on his current tour, as he plays opener to Tyrone Wells. He will keep it stripped down though, although he will have to trade the grand piano at the Circular Church for a regular keyboard for this run of solo performances.
"I say that with defeat, because you know I wish I could bring a piano with me on stage every night," James says.
The tour will also be a return to dry land for James, who just played the Rock Boat cruise ship festival in late February. After the mid-February news of a Carnival cruise ship getting stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, James says he wasn't too much more worried than usual when getting on a ship.
"I'm always a bit leery to get on a cruise ship for a lot of reasons," he says.
Brendan James w/ Tyrone Wells and Brett Young play the Slowdown, 729 North 14th St. Sunday, March 10th at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 day-of-show. For more information, visit theslowdown.com.