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Album Review ~ James Durbin ~ Riot on Sunset


July 12, 2016 jpdeuce73

James Durbin first captured a lot of our hearts when he brought a taste of rock and metal to the somewhat bland and monotonous world of American Idol. Just when I thought I couldn’t take another Whitney Houston or Edwin McCain cover, I look up and see this standing there belting out Muddy Waters and then Aerosmith. He went on to belt out classics from the Beatles, Queen and even Judas Priest. Durbin went on to finish fourth that season and since then he’s given us two studio albums as well as a Christmas EP. Although those releases were really good, I always felt like they fell a little short of my expectations because I felt like Durbin had so much more to offer. Was he holding back or were my expectations false hopes that I had built up around him?

Fast forward to 2016; Durbin got his release from his record label that he wanted and he’s about to release an album done independently. It’s done free of a label, free of the puppet strings, free of the suits and the powers that be who think they know what’s best for an artist. I remember putting on my headphones and anxiously pressing play on my advance copy of his new album Riot on Sunset. The album ended almost an hour later and I realized that I had just heard something really special. It made me laugh, it gave me goosebumps, it made me bang my head and play air guitar and it even brought tears to my eyes. Will you experience all of that when you listen to it? I’m not sure, but I certainly hope so. Here’s a rundown of some of the tracks to give you a little into this stellar album.

The album opens with the title track and Durbin shared this with us about the song: “I wrote the title track in my childhood bedroom when I was 21 years old. It was directly inspired by the youth curfew riots on the Sunset Strip in the 60’s. This song has had quite the journey, being pulled from both of my previous records for “not being good enough” yet hailed by some of my mentors as “the kind of song you only write once in your lifetime.” It’s a pretty epic track and a very powerful composition that deserved the right album to be included on. As much as Durbin wanted it on those other albums, it’s finally at home on this one.

https://youtu.be/PcBX3ycr4Mw

“Beautiful” is another stand-out track on the album as it channels a very Iron Maiden/DIO type of feel throughout the track. Durbin’s voice sounds amazing throughout the album, but this is one track where it really soars. Also, the guitar solo in this one is pretty sick as well! This one will have you throwing your horns in the air and cranking out some mean air guitar along the ride. Then, Durbin completely changes gears with “Mustang Livin’” which has a bit of a country feel to it. It’s not twangy country, but more along the line of today’s pop/rock country. I could easily see him on the CMA Awards performing this song; if Lzzy Hale can do it with Eric Church, then why not Durbin?

“N1n9teen” may not contain those amazing metal screams that we know Durbin can belt out, but it’s just as powerful in its content. A very autobiographical song from Durbin written from a series of events that had him ready to throw in the towel. Instead, he stopped and reflected and grew from the vents both as a person and as a musician. I hope he’s especially proud of this track because it’s one of the best things that he’s ever written. Fellow Idol contestant Casey Adrams makes an appearance on “Scratchers N Cheap Beer” and those two guys knock this fun track out of the park! “Smackdown” is the album’s first single and music video and I think it was a great way for Durbin to kick open the door and announce to everyone that he’s back and in a major way.

“We Are the Unknown” is another track that’s powerful both musically and lyrically. It’s a song about hope and never giving up, regardless of how bad things get and how alone you feel. I think this song would be a great addition to his live show with its chant along chorus. Oh yeah, there’s also a pretty tasty guitar solo in this one as well! “Sunday Is Gone” was written after Durbin visited his dad’s grave for the first time in 15 years after he passed. It’s amazing how your heart can pour out all this emotion and it can be channeled into a song like this.

Overall, Riot on Sunset is a very solid release from beginning to end from Durbin and the album that I have been waiting on. Not to take anything away from his prior releases, but I have been waiting on him to truly open up and just let it all loose. This album shows so many layers that go into making James Durbin who he is. Forget thinking outside of the box; he totally destroyed the box on this one. No two songs sound alike on here and the emotional content on some of these songs is extremely deep and personal. This is the strongest release by Durbin to date and I really hope that it gets heard by the masses. With so much shallow, meaningless, cookie cutter crap dominating our airwaves these days, it’s great to have an album like this to turn to help satisfy your musical hunger for something more substantial.