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Album Review: James Tutson — ‘Happy’


Fans of James Tutson’s lovely voice, guitar stylings and well-crafted songs will be more than happy with his new release, a six-track recording called Happy.

The album, which features Tutson’s longtime collaborator Tyler Carrington on keys and drums and Blake Shaw on bass, is of a piece with his previous work. The songs are R&B and gospel-inflected, with Shaw’s basslines both grounding and propelling each number. The lyrics are consistently thoughtful, and Tutson’s vocals are warm and filled with longing.

All of that comes together, for example, on the song “Let You Love Me.”

I need to fetter my fear now
I need to shackle my shame
I need to trust you’re sincere now
You need to know I’m the same
I need to just let you love me
I need to just let you care
I need to stop being lonely
And just let you know me
And take it from there

The intentionality of the alliteration in the opening two lines is balanced by the plainspokenness of the final line of the chorus (and the song): “And take it from there.” One could read the first two lines as the song’s narrator trying just a bit too hard but quickly realizing that if he would “just let” himself accept the simple foundations of a relationship, all could turn out well.

In “I’m Not On My Own,” Tutson successfully adopts the trapping of a slow doo-wop number, injects then with elevated lyrics and then simply sings the hell out of the song—including this verse that seems too thorny to work, but is instead buttery smooth in Tutson’s mouth:

I heard the news sung my lamentations
You heard the news and gave your elegy
Well I called a dirge for your woeful poem
I’m so glad that I’m not on my own

The title track is a slow jam variation on the twist served up by a song like Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” Suffice it to say, the singer is not the person feeling the titular emotion. “By and By,” which may be my favorite of the tracks, reminds listeners of Tutson’s ability to co-opt and reshape religious imagery and ideas in engaging ways. “I Need You Here” is an upbeat follow-up to “Let You Love Me.”

The record closes with “Tomorrow Comes Again,” a song in the style of a singalong worship or campfire song — three verses, each built around a single line. The order of those lines/verses gives the song more power than it might have if the final line were not, “I believe that sorrow has its time.”

That may be true, but even as we acknowledge the inevitability of hard times, we should all be happy that Tutson shares his gift for exploring the intersection of joy and sorrow.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s October 2022 issues.


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